President Barack Obama basically stuck with a left wing program – not much in the way of a pivot to the center, as some had speculated might be the case.
- He started the substance of the speech with the economy. Smart, and necessary. He defended against a) the notion that the administration hasn’t been focused on the economy and b) the notion that earlier effort on the economy was ill advised. On both counts he invoked the much maligned stimulus package, saying he and Congress “hated it,” but that it was necessary, if not popular.
- He railed against big banks and Wall Street, and said they’ll be forced to pony up dough to Uncle Sam to help community banks make loans to small businesses. Oddly enough, he also channeled main street confusion (or contempt, more likely) with wall street firms getting rewarded for bad behavior – I think he thought everyone would assume he was talking about big bonuses for corporate executives, but in fact he might has well have been referencing the bailout (which would put him on the side of rewarding bad behavior, undercutting his attempted populist rhetoric).
- He said all combat troops would be out of Iraq by August of this year. This surprised me, making a major and specific promise like this, given his failure to meet his Gitmo pledge.
- He pushed for repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell. How serious he is about it I don’t know – it may have been just to throw a bone to a Democratic Party constituency that has been making noises about being under-appreciated by a White House they thought would be an aggressive ally. I disagree with the president on this issue, but moreover, it would simply seem like a tough one to accomplish politically, at least any time soon.
- He called for Congress to keep working on health care.
- He called for Congress to do something on cap and trade.
- And had all the usual stuff about the determined optimism of America, etc.
- There was an extremely awkward moment where he seemed to introduce Michelle Obama almost as an after thought – and she seemed to offer an icy reception in reply. It’s hard to be sure simply watching on tv, but this didn’t look good. He said something like “oh and by the way, our First Lady Michelle Obama is working on such and such a thing….” Very, very odd. Poor form. He played it down by saying she was embarrassed, but the whole moment was just painfully awkward. I wonder if that’s what contributed to a rather mediocre delivery of the rest of the speech. His timing, normally impeccable, seemed a bit off in a few key moments of the night.
All in all, this speech is not going to help Obama that much. To the degree that he projected humility and expressed a desire for a more civil tone, sure, maybe he slows the bleeding a bit as far as his deteriorating public image – but this administration’s agenda is still going nowhere fast.
If he hasn’t already started learning this lesson from his international diplomacy efforts, Obama may learn after tonight that using words alone to hit the “reset” button on serious political issues doesn’t make debates dissolve and problems magically disappear.