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Obama aims for sober tone, honesty, optimism in address

Associated Press | 2/25/2009, 4:12 a.m.

In contrast to many State of the Union addresses delivered by George W. Bush, Obama was not expected to emphasize foreign policy.

He planned to touch on his intention to chart new strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan and to forge a new image for the U.S. around the world even as he keeps up the fight against terrorism.

But with the economy in a recession that already has lasted longer than any other in a quarter-century, that was to be the dominant topic.

The president aimed to drive home several points:

• He inherited the mess, and a quick turnaround is unlikely. Not only did the recession emerge on Bush’s watch, the Bush approach wasn’t the right one.

• He’s tackling the situation on multiple fronts. Already done: the massive stimulus plan, an overhaul of the separate $700 billion bailout for the financial sector, and a $275 billion rescue for struggling homeowners. On the way: decisions about limping U.S. automakers, a move to broadly rewrite financial industry regulations and perhaps more money aimed at propping up banks.

• Thinking short-term won’t do the trick. Focusing even amid the crisis on longer-term goals such as helping the millions without health insurance and switching the U.S. to greater dependence on alternative energy sources is crucial to the nation’s economic well-being.

Also crucial is bringing down the estimated $1.3 trillion budget deficit that is ballooning as Washington pours money into the economic recovery. Obama was expected to declare that the budget request he sends to Congress on Thursday will slash the deficit by at least half by the end of his term in 2013, in large part by ending U.S. combat in Iraq and eliminating some of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy.

He was also expected to talk of a continuing need to reach across ideological boundaries, and for him to connect with the everyday Americans dealing with hard times.

Obama hoped to hit just the right note with this address: grim enough to be honest, but optimistic enough to be inspiring.

New polls showed that the political climate can be as precarious as the economic one

While a new Washington Post-ABC News survey found that 68 percent of the public approves of Obama’s job performance, a Gallup poll also out Tuesday showed his approval rating falling to 59 percent.

(Associated Press)