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Jonathan Bernstein

Obama's Audience: Democrats

The party, not the president, controls the State of the Union address. But the president can use it to influence the party.
No man is an island.

No man is an island.

Photographer: Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images

How should we think about a president’s State of the Union proposals when he is in his final two years in office and the other party has taken solid majorities in both chambers of Congress?

If you guessed “agenda setting,” take a gold star. Presidents (like the news media) can’t change what we think, but they can change what we think about. So even if Republicans are likely to ignore what Barack Obama calls for tonight, it doesn’t mean his proposals are entirely irrelevant.