As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been a harsh critic of Obama’s leadership or lack of it since he took office, not because I supported Clinton (which I did but I got over it), but as someone who understands the responsibilities of a chief executive to create meaning, articulate a vision, and put forth an agenda for people to work from. From the time he was elected until now, his vision kept shrinking rather than expanding and his penchant for appeasing even the unappeasable has been nothing short of maddening.
That unwillingness to put a stake in the agenda ground left the Democrats in Congress adrift. The result has been that even when Obama scored accomplishments such as heath reform, it never felt like a victory. Because it was never clean cut, never a righteous fight.
But I have to say he knocked it out of the ballpark tonight in his State of the Union Address (full text here). His energetic delivery, piquant story telling, and frequent appeals to the highest American values made me remember the Obama I voted for in 2008 and thought had disappeared entirely.
It was brilliant to start and end with foreign policy and homage to the military, whose selflessness and teamwork contrast so sharply with the circular firing squad that is Congress. “Imagine what we could achieve if we all had the selflessness of the troops.”
Best line of the speech IMHO: **Fight obstruction with action.**
Where have you been these last three years, Mr. President? Welcome back.
It was so smart (albeit a little smoke and mirrors) to connect the multiple wars people are so tired of with the post WW II economic boom and the rise of the middle class. Now, there is HOPE. “The defining issue of our time is how to keep that dream alive.” “Fair shot, fair share, everyone play by rules.” “Reclaim American values.” He took the mantle personally by talking about his own grandfather’s military service and using the GI Bill to get an education afterward.
I couldn’t help thinking how darn lucky Obama is that Hillary Clinton is such a team player. So many of these foreign policy victories were hers. He did acknowledge that though she had been his primary opponent, as Secretary of State, she was in the room when the decision to go for Bin Ladin was made. (I try not to be like the sexist media and comment on female politicians’ looks, but it was great to see her looking radiantly, authentically Hillary, with her longer hair and the return of her much-maligned headband.)
Segue to taking credit for creating 3million–or was it 4?–jobs after Bush lost so many. And for protecting consumers after the big bad banks screwed them. And for saving GM, which has shown once again that the American workers are the best. He touched the heart of every businessman, who has probably read the classic business book, Built to Last.
Did he read my blogpost? He did what I asked him to do–emphasize expanding jobs in the sectors that heavily employ women, in myriad ways. Lauding teachers, expanding community colleges, and on.
I won’t continue with the usual SOTU Christmas tree of mentions dangled before constituencies waiting anxiously for their personally important issues. The important thing is the overall effect. This Obama can demolish any of the current Republican candidates.
No wonder the pundits were speculating on whether the GOP would try to draft a faux moderate like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels since all their current choices are deeply flawed. They tried to soften their hard-edged image by putting Daniels up to do the requisite retort. He started out statesmanly, then quickly shifted to blame everything from joblessness to the pox on Obama. The only interesting moment was when he coined a new phrase, “trickle down government” as tar to stick together his various disparagements. Otherwise, it was same old same old. Whine whine. Negative, bitter. Attack. No vision, no action.
What Obama left out:
Didn’t mention Paycheck Fairness Act though did mention equal pay to big cheers.
Didn’t mention putting the Freedom of Choice Act back into his priority list, or even the recent rulings expanding contraceptive coverage.
Didn’t talk much about health care at all.
If he mentioned major women’s initiatives such as the Executive Order Instituting a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, I missed it.
But there was great symbolism in the first time an openly gay military officer sat with the first lady and the end of Don’t Ask Don’t tell was lauded. Same with Warren Buffett’s secretary nodding approval when the president pointed out the unfairness of her paying a higher tax rate than her boss, and the camera panning Laurene Jobs each time the word “innovation” was mentioned. There was also the almost unbearable sadness of seeing the courageous but still wounded AZ Rep. Gabby Giffords bidding farewell for now to her Congressional colleagues.
All in all, I’m breathing out, relieved that the president performed so well. Commentators said that the State of the Union speech isn’t nearly as important or watched as it used to be. But I’m a sappy enough patriot to listen to every word, and to embrace the theater of it as an incredibly important declaration that our democracy lives for all of us to fight passionately another day for what we believe.