President Barack Obama shifted the terms of the 2012 election in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night arguing that the economy has begun to get better and daring his Republican opponents to deny it.
Mitt Romney promptly did, setting the stage for an argument not about whom to blame — the central subject of 2011 — but over the direction of the country.
"Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about," Obama said.
"The idea that were are on the right track is something very foreign to people here," Romney said on NBC after Obama finished delivering his remarks.
Obama has now placed his bet: The job growth, solid if unspectacular, will continue, he has signaled he expects. His bet is the same one Bill Clinton made in 1996, and like Clinton, he's decided that part of his job is to convince the American people that things are indeed getting better.
That's a risky bet. Public perception is a notoriously lagging indicator, and the first President Bush was thrown out of office amid what looks, in retrospect, like a robust recovery.
But the move also poses a risk for Republicans: They find themselves in the position of dismissing signs of American success, and will be accused of rooting for failure.
Obama may continue to run against Congress and it's single-digit approval rating, but the new strategy reflects the reality that the most important numbers come in the monthly jobs reports.