What Obama has to do tonight
My big hope is that Barack Obama opens tonight's State of the Union by saying, "You want the State of the Union? You can't handle the State of the Union!" But barring that, I'm looking to see whether he uses tonight's speech as an opportunity to tell a story about the pain in the country and how it relates to the policies of his presidency or whether he backs off the broader project and offers a Clintonian barrage of small policies that sound good and do little.
I'm not big on the power of presidential rhetoric, but Americans are watching Congress scream and yell and bargain and compromise and are sickened by it. Junot Diaz's critique of Obama's performance overstates the role narrative plays in the presidency, I think, but he's not entirely wrong. For a president that took office based on narrative, Obama has not provided much of it in the months since his inauguration. Instead, he's left Congress to do its work, and the way Congress works has repulsed the country.
Obama has a chance to explain what it's all been for tonight, and why it's been worth trying, and is worth continuing. Tonight's speech is probably comparable to nothing so much as his address in the aftermath of the Reverend Wright videos: Obama has to take an appalling reality (in this case, Washington) and embed it in a larger context, a story that people want to be part of. If Obama doesn't give them that tonight, he's lost this country for a good, long time.
I'll blog something after the speech, but if you want moment-by-moment commentary, that'll be on my Twitter account, which you can follow here.
Update: Twitter link fixed. Sorry about that!
Photo credit: By Larry Downing/Reuters
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