What we can hope to hear tonight

WHAT WE CAN HOPE TO HEAR TONIGHT…. With President Obama’s State of the Union address about nine hours away, I’m pausing to note that the Washington Monthly asked a group of writers, scholars, and White House veterans for their advice about what Obama should say in his address. Many of them offered the kind of shrewd and surprising ideas that can turn unpromising political circumstances to the president’s — and the country’s — advantage, and it’s the basis for the latest issue’s cover story.

They’re all worth reading, but this morning, two in particular are worth revisiting. Ruy Teixeira’s advice, for example, rings especially true.

Make no mistake: a more effective government is the public’s priority, not a smaller government. In a survey I helped conduct for the Center for American Progress’s Doing What Works government reform project, we found that, by a decisive 62 to 36 margin, the public said their priority for improving the federal government was increasing its efficiency and effectiveness, not reducing its cost and size. Significantly, we found an identical result among the independents in our survey.

For all the rhetoric that dominates Washington, it’s amazing that these simple truths remain elusive — most Americans care less about the size of government than its effectiveness. Republicans consider small government a goal unto itself, but it’s a dim, shallow exercise given public needs.

Voters won’t reward leaders who shrink government; they’ll reward leaders who make it work better and more efficiently. Ruy has some worthwhile thoughts on how to pursue these goals, too.

Let’s also note Jeff Leonard’s suggestion, which has generated a fair amount of attention from the likes of Jon Alter and David Leonhardt.

History shows that small businesses are a key component of national recovery in economic downtimes. But in today’s sputtering job market, these traditional engines of growth and employment are limping along at best. Many small firms are handicapped by a new twist on an old parasitic business practice that large corporations are using in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis, one that has significantly reduced the cash available to small businesses to invest and hire new employees. […]

What can you do? First, in your State of the Union address, you can call attention to this trend as an unfair business practice, and you could ask the Office of Advocacy in the Small Business Administration to research how widespread it has become. Second, you can take a simple but meaningful unilateral action: issue an executive order mandating that all companies with federal contracts pay their suppliers within thirty days of invoice.

The president surely knows he has to spur economic growth without help on spending from Congress. Leonard’s idea offers just such an avenue.

After the jump, there are individual links to all the contributors’ recommendations in our cover package.

Introduction: Clinton Needed Help in ’94. You Need Help Now.
by William A. Galston

Find a Few Good Opponents
by Bruce Bartlett

Recommit to Reform
by Howard Dean

Talk the Jobless Off the Ledge
by Debra J. Dickerson

Send In the Military
by Heather Hurlburt

Appeal to History
by Michael Kazin

Do Small Business a Simple Favor
by Jeffrey Leonard

Rise Above Party
by Will Marshall

Be the Mediator in Chief
by Andres Martinez

Communicate Better
by Theda Skocpol

Make Government More Effective, Not Smaller
by Ruy Teixeira