For the first two years of his administration, President Obama had no overriding narrative, no frame to define his policy making, no way to make sense of what he was trying to do. As of his 2011 State of the Union Address, he has one: Competitiveness.
The competitiveness narrative is intended to serve a number of purposes at once:
1. Split the Republican business community off from the hard right, especially the Tea Party. Most business leaders want real economics, not ideological economics. And it is hard to pin the “socialist” label on a business-oriented president. He may succeed.
2. Attract biconceptuals – those who are conservative on some issues and progressive on other issues. They are sometimes mistakenly called “moderates” or “independents,” though there is no one ideology of the moderate or the independent. They make up 15 to 20 percent of the electorate, and many are conservative on economic issues and progressive on social issues. He attracted them in 2008, but not in 2010. He needs less than half to win in 2012. He may well succeed.