President Barack Obama knows how to deliver a speech about as well as anyone since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And, like Roosevelt, President Obama set out a vision for the coming year that focused on the economy, and specifically on the way the government can lay the groundwork for economic growth. Almost every issue he mentioned pivoted back to that central point.

The problem is that the Republican Party has a different vision of how the government can help the economy recover. And, they have this obnoxious habit, grown worse since last week’s special election, of acting as if Obama had not won the election in 2008. The President called on Congress to move beyond partisan bickering, but I wish he had been more willing to call out the GOP. When he goes to Capitol Hill to meet with GOP leaders, and they put out a press release saying nothing was accomplished before the meeting, you know they were not sincerely engaging him in the first place. If they put their political goal of impeding any administration efforts ahead of the need for the government to help turn the economy around, shame on them.

There is a place for honest disagreement between the parties and Republicans are entirely entitled to propose their own solutions to the economic crisis. Indeed, President Obama has apparently decided to meet them halfway before any negotiations are begun, announcing a series of tax cuts that will appease Republicans but will do nothing to actually improve the economy. A small business does not hire when a tax cut comes on line; a small business hires when its staff can no longer handle growing customer demand.

Many on the left have denounced the President’s proposal for a spending freeze on discretionary spending. He understands something they do not, and the section of the speech in which he explained the spending freeze was the most effective of the evening. He said, "families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions.  The federal government should do the same….Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don't.  And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will." I do not know if the phrase "enforce this discipline" was intended to be so paternal, but it had the happy, and undeniably true, effect of pointing out the childishness of Congress.

 The President, like his predeccesor George W. Bush, tried to cast himself as an outsider, despite living in the most insider home in the nation. He spoke about Washington’s political culture as if he was not living in the middle of it. Sometimes this fell flat. On CNN, the Independents in a focus group flat-lined Obama when he made an inside joke about health care not being good politics. Self-deprecating humor is one thing, but of course a joke about health care was going to fall flat.

I had hoped the President would use the fact and form of the State of the Union speech itself to contrast his approach to governance with Washington’s dysfunctional traditions. I was hoping the President would give a brief, maybe 15 minute speech and avoid the hour-plus laundry list approach that he followed. Among other things, it is impossible to keep the focus on one central thing when you are reading a laundry list. For example, ending "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" in the military is a fine idea, an instance of simple justice that is long overdue. But, it has nothing to do with job creation and the economy and, just so, should have been left out. Instead, the reference sounded like typical interest-group politics.

The State of the Union also showed, vividly, the one thing President Obama does not have to worry about: his base. The Democrats in the focus group on CNN kept him at the top of their meters from the moment he walked in the door. The noisy, inside-the-Beltway lobby groups, and the still noisier blogosphere of the left, may give him trouble but rank and file Democrats still love the guy.

President Obama is uniquely gifted as an orator and the relaxed demeanor he exhibits in such situations shows a self-confidence that is as breath-taking as it is needed to tackle such an enormous set of of challenges. He has not only a surplus of confidence, but a surplus of intelligence, and he must remember that the rest of us don’t. He can speak about the stimulus money helping, but the rest of us need to see it. We need to see the high-speed rail lines being built, the wind farm being constructed, the bridges being replaced. In the days and weeks ahead, the President should find himself outside Washington, visiting businesses and schools and police stations where government is making a difference. The state of the Union is better because of the actions this president has taken. He just has to make sure the rest of us see that fact more clearly and last night was a good first step.

Comments

Anonymous | 1/29/2010 - 1:56pm
Marie,

I find the president very likable and I have much in common with him.

His speeches are very confusing:

1. Stimulus is not popular so call it a Job Bill
2. Promised to get troops out of Iraq so call them "combat troops" and then in August rename the "non-combat troops".
3. He does not want partisanship but his solution is for those who disagree with him to just come on over RATHER than for him to find moderate dems and moderate republicans to pass legislation.
4. Say he wants to change the tone in Washington but then insult the SCOTUS on national TV.
5. Smirk that if anyone has any ideas then just tell him. This is insulting and certainly not an attempt to change the tone in Washington.
I could go on.
Marie Rehbein | 1/29/2010 - 11:40am
Really, Joe Kash, you could not understand what he was saying?  It was very clear and well presented, I thought.  Do I recall correctly that you are a physician?  Could it be that your predisposition to dislike Obama interferes with your ability to understand what he is so plainly saying?
Anonymous | 1/28/2010 - 6:38pm
The president reminds me of the teacher in the Charlie Brown shows: "Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah."

He lectures his students but you can't understand what he is saying.
Anonymous | 1/28/2010 - 10:57am
"The problem is that the Republican Party has a different vision of how the government can help the economy recover. And, they have this obnoxious habit, grown worse since last week’s special election, of acting as if Obama had not won the election in 2008. The President called on Congress to move beyond partisan bickering, but I wish he had been more willing to call out the GOP."
 
I just don't get it.  As the Pres. said last night, you had the largest majority in recent history in Congress, you control the White House, and until recently, a large number (if not majority) of Governorships, but somehow, magically, mystically, we're supposed to believe that its all still A) George W. Bush's fault and/or B) those mean Republicans who just won't give us any ideas.  I mean this argument is laughable on its face.  Example A: the Deficit Reduction Commission was defeated in the Senate yesterday because 23 DEMOCRATS voted against it.  Only 13 Republicans did so.  Example B: you couldn't get the most conservative Democrats in the Senate to sign on to the health care bill without making special deals, and we're told repeatedly there aren't 100 votes in the House for passing the Senate bill.  So it seems to me that blaming Bush, the Republicans, the "special interests" corrupting our politics (as if the special back room deal for the unions is somehow not part of that) or the Supreme Court and then talking about breaking through the partisanship is a total farce.  The Republicans are playing perfect politics (shock, I know, politicians playing politics) by following the self-evident axiom - never interfere with your enemy when he's destroying himself.  It was the Democrats boasting after the 2006 & 2008 elections they didn't need Republicans to pass anything; now when the wheels are coming off its all the Republicans fault.  Its not - its Ben Nelson, and Blanche Lincoln, and Nancy Pelosi and on and on...
 
And I reiterate again my disappointment that the political commentary on this blog is becoming increasingly shill and Olbermann-esque.  I may stick to reading Ross Douthat in the Times for a balanced view.  I urge the America editors to consider bringing it a conservative viewpoint if its going to allow such partisan attacks.
JOSEPH CLEARY II | 1/29/2010 - 11:37pm
MSW- I wish the President was more willing to call out the Democratic Congressional leadership ( not just the speakers but the various committee leadership deadwood) who have led him down the primrose path.
He is a great orator but that only gets you so far. A few lame ''a pox on both your houses'' comments is not demonstrating leadership -or convincing anyone that he is willing to stand up to his own party when necessary. And contrary to what you  and the POTUS imply, a great middle of the road compromise is not when very liberal democrats wheel and deal with left center leaning democrats. 
The GOP needs to do a better job getting the word out about the real, legitimate alternatives it presents- and also making far clearer they are not at all the same alternatives Bush implemented in his first 6 years.
Here is the story line you do not hear. We are now into Year Four of Democratic control of both house of congress. MSW- how have they done? Do you give them a complete pass on the last two years under Bush?
The first two years they pretty much blocked whatever 43 was offering up. They achieved squat. This was of course cheered by Move.on and the like. Now they have overwhelming majorities. Instead of leading himself, POTUS defers to the Dem leadership on the legislation . These congressional leaders  govern from the far left. Sure they say they would ''like '' to have the GOP votes too- but in reality they don't give a darn about the center and center -right views in the country. And the bills that are offered up are ''take it or leave it'' liberal bills and the President ends up defending this world view. 
Unlike Obama, the dem leadership was not elected by the majority center of the country. The center ( including many dems elected from swing districts) turned against the debacle of increasing government micro manangement of every aspect of health care,  and special sweetheart deals for unions, a few states etc. When you want to rail on about why didn't health care ''reform'' get passed - you and the democrats can cry about tea parties or Scott Brown or Fox news - but instead i would suggest  '' the fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves....''
 
 
 
 
 
 
Kevin Jam | 1/28/2010 - 9:38am
Well put.
Marie Rehbein | 1/28/2010 - 12:31pm
It's really fine if the President includes more issues than just he economic ones (i.e. "don't ask, don't tell").  However, the speech was hugely about the economy. 
 
While it may be true that "A small business does not hire when a tax cut comes on line; a small business hires when its staff can no longer handle growing customer demand.", it is also true that in an iffy economy, a small business might not hire, but its owners might work longer hours or pay some of its employees occasional overtime.  A tax incentive to take that step and hire someone might have an impact on unemployment even if it is not likely the entire solution.
 
I thought the President's comment about not pursuing health care for political gain was appropriate in response to the many crazies who have characterized this as an attempt to impose a totalitarian regime upon the nation - didn't that accusation come from a member of the Catholic Church heirarchy?