The New Obama Is the Old Obama

(AP Photo/Tim Sloan, Pool)

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)

David A. Love

This article first appeared in The Grio and is republished with permission.


  1. says

    I don’t care about Obama’s speeches anymore. He’s really good – and an excellent analyst of situations and where some other folks are.

    But he evidently STILL hasn’t figured out that it doesn’t work (except for purposes of getting cool Peace Prizes – which maybe is all he really cares about) to pretend that everyone is as committed to sweet reason as he is. Some people have to be dealt with differently. Whether Congressional Republicans or Ahmadinejad, some people are either too dumb (or committed to looking dumb) or too evil. For them, Obama’s brilliant analyses are either duh-irrelevant or else are unwitting self-exposes of his wimpitude and self-delusion.

    I am concerned no longer about what he says or how cool he says it, but what he DOES or does not do, and his top appointees too.

    I care about our human and planetary future. Obama’s first-year enviro policies and actions get a C rating in the careful and comprehensive review done by the Center for Biological Diversity. If G W Bush is now deemed to set our desired standard, then sure Obama is slightly better. Big deal. At the present rate, Obama gives us little to cheer on what sort of planet we leave our kids and grandkids. His climate policy is about non-existent, and meanwhile Salazar and his other like folk are trying to outrace Bush and Palin in wiping out wolves, polar bears and sea turtles.

    His population-control policy is sure better than Bush’ (which doesn’t take much) but other foreign policies are disastrous. An endless war in Afghanistan to keep chasing Taliban round and round, but nothing done to stop Iran’s nukes. More hand-wringing – just like Bush – while Darfuris keep dying.

    Besides looking more cool again, what’s Obama DOING??

  2. SandiB says

    Sharon Toji:

    I couldn’t have said it any better than you and I have supported Obama since his campaigning days too.

    He needs to stay on message, have more contact with Republicans via C-Span (if that is what it takes). He needs to talk to Nancy Pelosi and advise her to answer Republicans as she would answer Democrats with dignity even if she has to grit her teeth.

    We do need many things, Sharon, and a comprehensive Health Care Bill constructed and credited by both parties would be a very nice gesture if anything else. Because this is what America needs most and American Citizens need also.

    Healthcare has been one of the biggest “costs” to the United
    States for years. The sooner we deal with this “Demon” the better off we will all be.

    I know that President Barack Obama’s slogan was YES WE CAN, and now I stand ready to hear him say YES WE DID.

    I appreciate the way you wrote your comment and if we, and other Americans enjoyed watching this on C-Span, then we need much more of it.

    I don’t care about the cost. This is the “transparency” that I believe Americans need to see on all meetings centered around bills of importance to Americans.

    Thank you.

  3. Sharon Toji says

    Yes, I was impressed by the speech, and happy about his performance in Baltimore. I had given up. The “freeze” was, for me, the very last straw. I had never been a true believer, but from the moment that others decided he was “The One,” I worked very hard for his election — literally seven days a week, closing our irvine headquarters at 9 and 10 pm so that everyone going by could register to vote, get a tee-shirt or button, or pick up some literature.

    I knew the president was not a true progressive, that he almost always went from big statements in speeches to compromise in legislation. I also knew, from over 50 years as a community activist and organizer, that most of the enthusiastic crowds would not be there for the long boring weeks and months of support for governance. However, I did think the president was very smart, and had a smart team. I thought he had picked Rahm Emanuel to be his strong arm man in Congress — his “bad cop,” so to speak, so he could be the good friendly cop asking everyone to just get along and get things done for the good of the country. I thought he would go to the people with simple messages — his “Hope and Change” was nothing if not simple — and bring them along.

    So, I have been surprised and disappointed at the fact that he has not seemed to have a clue as to how to engage the public, and that Rahm Emanuel seems to have been more an advisor to him, counseling him to think small, than an enforcer in Congress. And his actions in office have seemed to indicate, over and over, that many of his progressive promises — like his promises to the Gays, about Gitmo, about no rendition — were not really completely serious.

    And of course, if we analyze his State of the Union speech, we will soon figure out that it was not a progressive plan of action at all. There was a weak kind of promise to take action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but the energy section mentioned “clean” coal, nuclear energy, off-shore drilling — and seemed to skip over sustainable energy. There was a lot of the usual posturing about how strong we are, and of course the freeze doesn’t apply to the Pentagon. Jobs seemed to depend mostly on giving a tax cut to small businesses that hired someone new, but of course many small businesses, who would love to hire someone if they could afford it, are losing money so they don’t owe taxes, and therefore a tax credit is useless to them. They really need customers, which means they need to be surrounded by a population that is working. State and local governments are laying everyone off, and that means private sector layoffs as well — a vicious downward cycle that will be barely touched by the tax credit.

    Oh, and there was the part about health care. I was ecstatic that he called for the bill to be finished, but then I was let down when it appeared that he was calling on Congress to finish it, without mentioning at all what his administration was going to do to get that to happen. What does he want? What will he support? What service will he offer to get it done? I listed to Axelrod the next day and could not believe his wishy-washy response.

    OK — but I still liked the speech. I liked the fact that he actually conversed part of the time, rather than orated. It sounded more “real.” I liked the fact that he admitted he had made mistakes. I liked that he called out the Republicans for just saying “no,” and the Democrats for not using the power they have. I liked his energy. I liked the energy of the Democrats in the audience. And I liked the fact that in Baltimore, he still seemed to be on a roll.

    So now, Mr President, it’s up to you. Sorry, I and the other old ladies who are always there, walking the precincts and registering the voters, (and secretly wishing there could be a woman president while we could still enjoy the victory), have done all we can for your success. We have written the letters and postcards. We have made the phone calls. We have led the meetings, and tried to engage our neighbors. Fine, make everyone happy and look bi-partisan by putting things on C-Span and the internet, but we would like to have hear that you have sent Rahm Emanuel up to the Hill to twist arms and take names. We’d like to see Joe Lieberman lose his committee chairmanship as an example to all those who break their promises. (You don’t need him now to make 60 votes.) We’d like to see a compromise on Health Care worked out in the front room, the back room, or even in a smoke filled room if it takes that — a compromise of the best that the House and the Senate have to offer if that’s the best we can get, and we’d like to see a bill, signed and sitting on your desk. It won’t benefit many of us. We have Medicare. But it will benefit our children and grandchildren. Come on, President Obama. “Yes You Can!”


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