When President Obama delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday night, some might want him to spend as much time explaining the past year as looking ahead to the next.
Many goals he set out in last year's speech, soon after starting his second term -- raising the minimum wage, bipartisan fiscal deals, immigration reform and new gun controls -- were stalemated in Congress, mainly in the Republican-led House. The federal government shut down for 16 days; Edward Snowden's revelations of extensive secret domestic surveillance rocked the nation. And as debate over the national health insurance law -- Obama's signature achievement -- goes on, even supporters shamefacedly admit technical snafus and lousy messaging marred its rollout.
Now polls show Obama's approval rating is 10 points lower, and the electorate has seldom been more divided in the last half-century.
"I don't think I'll even be watching the speech," said Augustus Devandry, 33, of Oakland. "He ended up not getting things done that he said he was going to do."
Devandry, an independent voter and electrical engineer, said Obama probably won't discuss issues important to him, such as protecting civil liberties and getting to the root causes of America's economic problems. He said he feels disenfranchised amid "all this rhetoric instead of getting down to real issues."
But don't expect penitence, experts say -- the State of the Union is any president's paean to opportunity, action and optimism, not a dirge about what went wrong.
"Contrition and Barack Obama don't really go together, so I don't think you're going to see a lot of breast-beating at the podium," predicted Jack Pitney, a political expert and Claremont McKenna College professor. "You're going to see a president who's laying out his agenda -- not making a lot of partisan digs, but laying out by implication the differences between the parties."
With Congress focused on its midterm elections, Obama probably doesn't expect to get much done this year on Capitol Hill and his top political goal is to keep the Senate under Democratic control, Pitney said. That means emphasizing things that play well to a broad range of voters, such as extending long-term unemployment benefits, raising the federal minimum wage and expanding economic opportunity while reducing economic inequality.
"What he really needs to do is be positive and set out a positive agenda," said George Lakoff, a professor and expert in political linguistics at UC Berkeley.
That includes inviting inspirational guests such as Boston Marathon bombing survivors; the fire chief from tornado-ravaged Moore, Okla.; and Jason Collins, the former Stanford All-American and NBA player who last year became the first male pro athlete in a major league sport to publicly come out as gay. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee will have a prime spot in Michelle Obama's box, having been invited as a guest of the first lady.
Gallup now pegs Obama's approval rating at 41 percent, compared to 51 percent at last year's State of the Union; and 82 percent of Democrats and 11 percent of Republicans approved of his job performance in 2013. That's down from a 76-point partisan gap in the 2012 election year, but it's still the fourth-most-polarized year in Gallup's records dating back to the Eisenhower era.
Obama already sought to smooth the waters this month by speaking about surveillance reform, yet left many wanting to hear more. Some in Silicon Valley will want him to talk Tuesday about curtailing bulk collection of Internet data and curbing efforts to break top tech firms' encryption protections.
"Hearing additional details about how this will be resolved in as balanced a manner as possible would matter a great deal," said Carl Guardino, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group's president and CEO.
Obama is likelier to talk about something on which he and the tech sector are more closely aligned.
Silicon Valley wants "meaningful, broad-based immigration reform," Guardino said, "and we hope and expect to hear about that again from the president."
Expect Obama to tout the health care law's successes. In California, 625,564 people had signed up through the state's insurance exchange by mid-January, while 584,000 more were deemed eligible for Medi-Cal -- the state's health program for the poor -- under the law.
But technical and administrative glitches made the law's rollout harder than it had to be; some policies that didn't meet its standards were canceled, leaving people to pay more for new policies that comply; and public education efforts -- especially those for Latinos -- have fallen short of their goals.
Micah Weinberg, a health policy expert and senior adviser to the Bay Area Council, said it's "important that the president be realistic about what we've been able to achieve," adding that "because we're graded on a curve, California is getting an 'A,' but there's still much to do."
Most of the state exchange's enrollees already had insurance in the past, he said, so while Medi-Cal's expansion is great progress toward reducing the rolls of uninsureds, "the project of covering the uninsured in the private market is really just at the very beginning."
Jason Collins, the former Stanford All-American and NBA player who is the first active male pro athlete in a major American team sport to come out publicly as gay, will be among guests of honor seated with First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden during President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday.
The president had called Collins, 35, of Los Angeles, shortly after Collins came out in a piece written for Sports Illustrated last April, the White House said in a news release Monday. "The President said he 'couldn't be prouder' of Collins, recognizing this as a point of progress for the LGBT community, and one more step in America's goal to treat everyone fairly and with respect."
Soon after the article was published, Michelle Obama tweeted, "So proud of you, Jason Collins! This is a huge step forward for our country. We've got your back!"