What Will Obama's Springfield Speech Be About?

Feb 10, 2016

President Barack Obama is set to address the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield Wednesday. Statehouse reporter Brian Mackey filed this preview of what the president is expected to say — and what he probably won’t say.

The timing of Obama's speech is not a coincidence. Today is nine years to the day since he announced his campaign for president in downtown Springfield.

That 2007 morning was bright, clear and really cold. But a huge crowd gathered to hear a speech full of the optimism that would define Obama’s first campaign and propel him into office.

"In the face of a politics that's shut you out, that's told you to settle, that's divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people, reaching for what's possible, building that more perfect union," he said.

Obama’s election carried with it a feeling that maybe we were about to reach a new political consensus in America. That good politics could yield good policies. But, as you know, not so much.

Rick Santelli: “We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m going to start organizing."
Sen. Mitch McConnell: “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term."
Donald Trump: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … There bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people."

CNBC's Rick Santelli, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump.

Rather than hope, the winning political message in recent years seems to be that our political system is broken. It’s worked for Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz and even Gov. Bruce Rauner in Illinois.

But now, in the final year of his presidency, Obama is resurrecting his earlier theme. The White House says today's Springfield speech will focus on "what we can do, together, to build a better politics — one that reflects our better selves."

“A better politics" is something Obama has been talking a lot about in recent weeks. He sounded some of these same notes in his final State of the Union address last month, saying Democracy “doesn’t work if we think our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.”

“It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better," Obama said. "I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the side, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office."

“Rancor and suspicion between the parties” seems like a pretty good description of Illinois politics right now. There’s a bitter divide between the strong Democratic majorities in the legislature and Gov. Rauner over the Republican's relentless push to break the power of government labor unions. The dispute has left Illinois without a budget for more than seven months.

Rauner says he’ll try to ask Obama about that: “I am primarily going to focus on his thoughts on how we get compromise. As a leader of the Democratic Party, how can I work with the Democratic legislature? Get his advice. How can I bring Democrats around to getting reforms?"

The White House says Obama will not be trying build a bridge over that particular divide — at least not in his public remarks. Spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the president won’t be a “back-seat driver for running the state government of Illinois.”