State of the Union Address
The President’s oratorical performances this past week provided us with a refreshing glimpse of the new Barack Obama — and the old one as well. I am referring to the bold and brilliant Obama of the 2008 presidential campaign, the leader who spoke with confidence and decisiveness, who clearly defined the enemy, and played the political game on his own terms. This was the Obama who showed up at the State of the Union address, and served up the Republican Party for dinner at the GOP’s Baltimore retreat.
This is the Obama that people voted for, the one who has the potential to emerge as one of the great American presidents.
Perhaps it was the return of David Plouffe, the president’s rainmaking campaign manager. After a year of missteps and bungling on health care, maybe the White House finally saw the writing on the wall — they were losing the support of the base, and had to make some changes. The stunning, humbling loss in the Massachusetts Senate race could have played a role as well. Whatever precipitated President Obama’s comeback, I hope he stays around for awhile.
In his State of the Union address, the president did a great job identifying the problems. He singled out the banks that need to repay the money they took from the public, and the lobbyists who are trying to kill health care reform. He called out the Supreme Court for a recent decision that will “open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.” The president spoke about the urgent need for jobs, affordable mortgages and affordable college tuition. And he decried the Washington culture where every day is Election Day.
And at the Republican Party’s retreat in Baltimore, President Obama was responsible for the most compelling example of political theater in recent American history. He fielded questions from a crowded room of hostile adversaries– outnumbered, perhaps, but unmatched in intellectual firepower. The result was nothing less than a nationally-broadcast smackdown that the Republicans will not soon forget. Perhaps the president’s adversaries in the GOP, blinded by their partisanship, extremism, and dare I say racism, underestimated his capabilities.
“I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party,” Obama admonished the Republican faithful. “You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.”
So, the new President Obama is the original version that people supported in November 2008 and placed in the White House. For a time, “the base” became disillusioned over an administration that promised change, yet seemed to flirt with the stale, uninspiring and disappointing ways of doing politics. The White House appeared unable or unwilling to defend health care and the public option. It cut backroom deals with the pharmaceutical industry, and allowed a dysfunctional Congress to draft the legislation, without providing guidance. Further, the administration was criticized for failing to address the disproportionate impact of the recession on the black and Latino communities.
But the final straw came when the president, in a middle of a recession, proposed a three-year freeze on discretionary spending, excluding national security and defense, veterans affairs and entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. A recent Rasmussen poll confirmed that few believe the freeze will have an impact. The proposal was widely criticized as a cheap political gimmick, an example of the president embracing the failed economic policies of his conservative adversaries. But to what end? Such a strategy can only damage the president’s credibility, and an Obama brand name built on the promise of change.
Although it took awhile, President Obama finally has found his voice. The transition from campaigning to governing was a rocky one for this White House, but now things are looking up. An important lesson learned is that the president must stay true to himself and to the voters. In fact, he does best when the inside-the-Beltway advisors, the polls and the focus groups are taken out of the picture. (a portion of President Obama’s exchange with the Republicans can be viewed in the video below)
This article first appeared in The Grio and is republished with permission.