In two days US President Barack Obama will lay out his new centrist agenda of leaner government and long-term job growth as he delivers his second official State of the Union address.

In a preview video to supporters, Obama signalled he would reach across the aisle to find common ground with Republicans — many of whom now identify with the Tea Party movement — in combating America’s budget deficits and $US13 trillion debt.

“The economy when I first was coming in was contracting rapidly, we lost millions of jobs, businesses were shuttered … two years later, the economy that was shrinking is now growing again. We created more than a million jobs over the last year. The stock market is back up and corporate profits are healthy again. We’ve made progress … but we’ve got more to do.

“My number one focus is making sure we are competitive, growing and creating jobs, not just now but well into the future.

First on that agenda will be supporting industries willing to employ more Americans and export goods and technology, including restoring many of the manufacturing jobs lost to Asia.

Australia may benefit from one reform likely to come out of an export focus. The Administration is already looking at reducing restrictions on certain exports, such as security technologies. That red tape has been a source of frustration for Australia-US defence partnerships, and also impacts our local software industry.

While the pomp and circumstance will remain, this address is likely to be very different from those of previous years as a result of the recent shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The American media has given much attention to plans by some law makers to sit “paired off” with a member of the other side.

The Supreme Court justices, who typically sit unresponsive throughout the address, may not attend this year after one conservative justice, Samuel Alito, was caught on tape muttering disapproval during last year’s address. Chief Justice John Roberts later said it was inappropriae made to sit through a “pep rally”.

While his audience may depart from traditions, Obama will not. Like the past half dozen presidents who preceded him, Obama will declare “the state of the union is strong”. He will quote the Bible. He will promise to balance the budget, reduce the deficit, and reduce America’s dependence on foreign energy sources. Those promises are now ritual, and Obama will have a hard time convincing the American people .

Last year’s address included several promises to his liberal base, such as passing health care reform and ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Those were by and large kept, but gained him no support in the polls. It appears no more will be made this year as he attempts to regain the middle ground.

The most significant broken promise was to hold monthly meetings with Republican leadership to end the partisan divide and change the culture of Washington. That he has no choice but to do now Republicans control the House of Representatives.

Rebuilding bridges will be a significant challenge for Obama: late last week House Republicans used their numbers to pass a bill repealing the President’s signature health care reform. The move was initially seen as a symbolic slap against the president, as it stood no chance of being signed into law by Obama.

Obama plans to remind the American public that it was his bipartisan vision that shot him from being a virtually unknown junior senator to the White House: “As long as we come together as a people, Republicans, Democrats and independents; as long as we’re willing to find common ground … that’s what it’s going to take to win the future.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey