At a time when the nation was strangling on his bad policies and worse actions, Mr. Bush couldn't think of a single mistake he'd ever made as President. Last night a sitting President told us, "I take my share of blame. . ."
Mr. Bush's state of the union preachments amounted to, "Trust me, I'm doing fine, I'm the decider, and God is with me. . ."
Mr. Obama offered no such Panglossian prevarication. He acknowledged the truth: that we managed to stave off financial devastation, but the economy still is far from healthy; that without government action our job losses might have been even greater but remained grievous; and above all that Americans are angry and hurting and greatly disappointed in their government -- with cause.
He was largely stern-faced, professorial and determined throughout his address and his few smiles were pasted-on grins, except when he acknowledged the First Lady and thanked her for her efforts to combat childhood obesity. That smile was genuine.
But when he attempted to mask with gentle humor his jibe at the Republicans for failing to respond to anything he said -- even things he thought they'd approve of -- both his smile and the attempt at humor were painfully artificial.
And although he continued to appeal for bipartisanship, even while acknowledging the profound differences between the parties, he projected genuine determination to keep fighting for solutions to the major issues confronting the nation.
He rearranged his priorities to put jobs and the economy first, but remained committed to health care reform for all the right reasons. He needs to tell us more about his job creation policies, but those he described last night are promising. Obviously he is not inclined toward the greater government financial role in job creation that many economists deem necessary, but at least he is deferring his cuts on government social programs until 2011 "when the economy has recovered more."
Overall, he struck me as a President determined to fight much harder for some of the country's most urgent needs than he did in this first year, when he made too many concessions to his racalcitrant opposition and received nothing in return. The surly determination of that opposition, and the personification of it, were evident when cameras panned the audience as he spoke. It was not just Republicans who pointedly refused to applaud any of his statements; not one of the people with all the brass and braid on their suits did so either. Nor, in fact, did a substantial number of Democrats, notably when he reminded them that they still held majorities in Congress and should not "run for the hills." When Mr. Obama rightly criticized the Supreme Court for playing politics in its decision granting corporations First Amendment license to buy elections, one of the crafters of the decision, Samuel Alito, was seen to sneeringly dismiss the President while mouthing "not true." The Joe Wilson of the Supreme Court.
Mr. Obama chose not to address those deplorable policies of his predecessor that remain in effect -- domestic spying; pleading national security to veil activities that reek of the probability of being illegal or unconstitutional; keeping secret the actions of senior government officials that led us into unwinnable and illegal wars. He did proclaim that we have "prohibited" torture but that dances around the continuing renditions of captives to lands that are known to condone and practice it.
What Mr. Obama gave us last night was a statement of precisely centrist goals. If Congress achieves them, the country will be a somewhat better place than it was when he took office a year ago. If Mr. Obama remains firm and uncompromising, and the Senate Republicans filibuster, so be it. Let the fault for failure than fall exactly where it belongs. Surely not even the American electorate is so blind as to let that pass unnoticed.
We heard last night from a President who is not George Bush, and that's good. Good enough, perhaps, to get these United States through one of its darkest times.
State of the Union (II)
By Mort Persky
OK, the truth. Just tell the truth!
I now have to come clean and admit that my President grabbed and squeezed me by the gut tonight. Thus there had to be times when I was helpless to remember what I really thought of his healthcare maneuvering, and whatever he was saying on my TV screen right now took precedence. It was quite a show.
Thus I mainly forgot my foregone conclusion that he was at least a Blue Dog Centrist. He papered over it so well that I considered holding his paste pot while he finished up. He came across as a man running on a straight common-sense ticket and I just couldn't resist the guy. I sat there, his helpless captive, for the whole 90 minutes.
We were back in a room with the same Obama we voted for a whole year and three months ago. Just like nothing had happened in-between. No Geithners, Summerses, Afghanistan surges, still-rendered detainees or threatened habeas corpuses, none of it. Here was a guy who sounded for all the world like he was determined to put my political philosophy to work, damn the Republicans and Blue Dogs! Although he kept smiling at 'em the whole time, he got in his licks
But did I choose to forget that one of the most noticeable things he did when entering that room was go over to Geithner and give him a special look, a special smile and handshake, maybe a little shoulder squeeze that nobody else got -- right in front of every one of us, including his new friend Paul Volcker? Sure I did.
Quite a while later, the same guy was shaming the seated members of the Roberts court, Roberts himself front and center, for their recent reenforcement of corporate personhood and a good company/citizen's right to buy elections in their entirety instead of piecemeal -- or however they do it now. The justices had to sit there in their privileged seats right under his nose and take it, though I heard later he had Alito muttering about it at the very least.
It even occurred to me to feel glad I'd sent him a few bucks prior to last November -- back before I knew Lloyd Blankfein was writing him a check that would trump Bam's entire "citizen's army." That's right --- I could barely remember there was such a thing as Goldman Sachs. That's how carried away I was. The guy gives a real Oscar performance with his back to the wall, and I salute him.