By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
"Let's seize this moment – to start anew," said President Barack Obama in the closing of his State of the Union address.
It was a startling admission. The last year did not work. Through the colossal failure of healthcare and the lack of focus of creating jobs and building the economy, the president how wants to hit the reset button. Given the challenges Democrats face electorally in 2010, not to mention Obama's cratering poll numbers, it may be his only option; one that necessitated, as one journalist told me, "a finger in the dam speech."
And it was a good speech. Barack Obama gives a good speech. Hillary Clinton reminded us of that on the campaign trail, even if it wasn't meant as a compliment. The question is whether the speech moved the ball forward.
In conceding that healthcare reform was essentially dead (and, by default, the past year wasted), Obama didn't provide much hope for Congressional Democrats who watch the generic ballot tick in the Republicans' direction daily. Nor is it even fathomable, with a Democratic President and large Democratic majorities in Congress, that new nuclear plants and increased offshore drilling ever sees the light of day. For Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, Obama's comments are a non-starter.
Then there were the president's comments on terrorism. If in the past 10 years, someone had told you that in the State of the Union the president was going to brag that the United States had killed or captured more terrorists than in the previous year, would you not reasonably assume that it was George W. Bush? One can almost hear congressional Democrats attacking such remarks as an example of Bush's "Texas swagger" and a locker room numbers game.
Of course, Obama did address the issue of the economy and jobs. What did we learn? Well, it's the fault of Bush and banks (you knew he wasn't going to give a speech and not blame Bush for our, and his, predicament) and while the administration has sworn not to talk about saved jobs or created depressions, Obama took credit for just that.
While nice, the speech didn't add up to much politically. Assurances the president has given Republicans in the past--regular meetings and input on healthcare reform, for example--ring hollow. It's year two. If it didn't happen in year one (Super Bowl parties don't count), why would anyone reasonably expect a substantive change now? And if you're a vulnerable Democrat, what did President Obama give you to turn back the clock to January 2009? Some programs you're not enthusiastic about and a lecture from the president about how you need to do your job better. If you're an embattled Democrat, say Blanche Lincoln or Michael Bennet, you're still asking yourself the question: do I run with him or indifferently?
One year ago, anyone suggesting Obama would have to ask Congress to start anew was dismissed as a crank who only wanted Obama to fail. All of which makes last night's State of the Union address remarkable, if ultimately forgettable. The speech was checked and checked by the White House, but there's one person who never got to look at last night's address--Candidate Barack Obama, who (a week after President Obama proposed the very kind of spending freeze Candidate Obama criticized) surely would have had a hard time with much that was said last night.