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Posted at 3:30 PM ET, 01/26/2011

Perhaps new policy wasn't really the point of the State of the Union

By Ezra Klein

Maybe old policy was. That, at least, is the theory being advanced by Time's Michael Grunwald, who suggests that the White House took stock of their policy achievements, judged them good but unpopular, and decided the best way to ensure their continued implementation was to change the subject. After all, as Grunwald says, it's been passing legislation, not protecting it, that's done damage to Obama's poll numbers. So long as he's just reaching out to the other side and speaking to the public in vague terms about good things, his numbers keep going up. And it's high numbers, not good arguments, that will safeguard his accomplishments:

At times in his presidency, most elaborately in the "New Foundation" speech, Obama has challenged these attacks, explaining how the deficit exploded before he reached the White House, how GOP tax cuts created far more debt than the stimulus ever did, how joblessness and the deficit would both be much worse without that "failed stimulus." Last night, he didn't really bother. Apparently, Obama has moved past the debates of last year. Politically, at least, he lost them. He isn't renouncing any of his core beliefs or legislative accomplishments, but he isn't asking for a rematch, either. ...

Obama's approval ratings have been rising ever since he acknowledged his "shellacking" in November. He keeps signaling to the public that he's reaching out to Republicans, even though he's still pushing policies they've been denouncing for two years. It wasn't his choice to swim upstream -- the midterm voters made that call -- but evidently he's got something in common with those salmon. He gets even more complicated when he's been smoked.

By Ezra Klein  | January 26, 2011; 3:30 PM ET
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Next: The case of the olive


BTW, did you see how bloodshot Ryan's eyes were last night? Guess, the salmon wasn't the only thing smoked up.


Posted by: chrisgaun | January 26, 2011 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I see this new theme as more similar to the "hope" and "change" themes he campaigned on, and I wonder if "competition" represents the beginnings of Obama's 2012 campaign.

Posted by: dpurp | January 26, 2011 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Alternative hypothesis: Obama's improving poll numbers are indicative of an improving economy and Obama's rhetoric is irrelevant.

Posted by: zosima | January 27, 2011 12:03 AM | Report abuse

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