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'We Are Not Quitters'

It was a moment that Franklin D. Roosevelt would have savored in 1933, at the depth of the Great Depression — the president gesturing to the gallery of the House of Representatives and quoting a high school student from South Carolina: “We are not quitters.”

No, sir! No way. Not Tuesday night. For the first time in his presidency, Barack Obama was truly presidential, finding a language and a cadence to speak to a country that has become paralyzed by the economic decline.

Before the speech, even the nation’s most tough-minded investors were saying that the best hope for the economy was that Obama would sprinkle some political magic. His policies hadn’t stemmed the decline; the massive $787 stimulus package was criticized even by its supporters as a grab-bag, and his financial recovery plan sent the stock market plummeting. But perhaps the president, the Orator in Chief, could turn it around.

The big asset in our depleted national bank right now is Obama himself. And to this listener, at least, he delivered a big tranche of what the bankers and boardroom titans have failed to provide over the past year, which is leadership. That won’t be enough to offset all the bad news that’s still ahead, but it was a start.

It was a strong, ambitious speech, important not just for what Obama said but for what he still has in reserve in terms of leadership and rhetorical power. After eight years of botched words and shrugs and smirks, we have a president who can harness the English language and use it speak to a frightened country. He had his priorities sharply focused Tuesday night: energy, health care, education, fiscal discipline — the same themes he kept pushing on the campaign trail, but now it is for real.

On health care, Obama practically shouted it out: “Let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.” The Republicans have to be thinking: Whoa! We’re going to get rolled. They had to wonder, listening to the speech, whether obstructionism would prove to be good politics, after all.

The fact is that Obama’s leadership gifts are the country’s best bet right now. The financial system is like a kid frightened of the dark, lacking the confidence to do the most basic things. Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector is facing a world of collapsing demand, with consumers frightened to buy anything but next week’s groceries. The panic that has gripped Wall Street for a year has finally hit Main Street, hard, and the economy is falling faster than even the pessimists could have imagined.

Against this background of gathering anxiety, Obama delivered his message: “We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.” The policies don’t yet match that rhetoric. They’re still too incremental, reactive and ad-hoc — an awkward melding of Larry Summers and Nancy Pelosi. But you had the feeling Tuesday night that Obama’s team is at least on the learning curve.

The odd thing about leadership, especially when it comes to economic issues, is that it’s a confidence game. To make this recovery happen, you gotta believe. That act of belief is fragile, especially when the economy is still heading down and hasn’t yet hit bottom. But Tuesday night, Obama was able to speak directly to the American people, powerfully and passionately, at the beginning of what will be a nightmare year. That’s a big plus for a frightened nation.

The Republicans had new reason to be worried after the speech; the public had new reason to be hopeful.

By David Ignatius  | February 24, 2009; 11:29 PM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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Next: Poor Gov. Jindal

Comments

Ignatius goes with the flow. Obama is cool at this point, so he will say very nice things about the new President ALL THE TIME. once the Press Corps makes it a habit to trash Obama, Ignatius will obediently follow suit.

Posted by: kingsbridge77 | February 25, 2009 12:06 AM | Report abuse

Not to be catty, but
was Nancy drunk or what? Let's
see JakeD make that the crux!

No news made here folks.
just the same okey-doke. S'pose
he really means it...

Barack Obama
say it again now people,
Barack Obama!

hope and change from the
roots to the fruits; brought to you
that care to haiku

anyway, she was drunk.

Posted by: cassk1 | February 25, 2009 1:07 AM | Report abuse

Shortly after 9/11, President George W Bush spoke to Congress and to the nation. His tone was sober, and his words were clear: "Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

Bush's popularity soared. David Ignatious joined the bunch of pundits who praised Bush.

Then, Bush used 9/11 to advance an obscure agenda that included invading Iraq and taking control of oil fields. David Ignatious joined the bunch of pundits who praised Bush.

Then, Bush used the war in Iraq to get re-elected. David Ignatious joined the bunch of pundits who praised Bush.

Then, Bush threatened to start WW3 if Iran didn't dismantle its nuclear program. David Ignatious joined the bunch of pundits who praised Bush.

Then, Bush kept spending like crazy. David Ignatious joined the bunch of pundits who praised Bush.

*****

Last night, President Barak Hussein Obama spoke to Congress and to the nation. His tone was inspirational, and his words were clear: "We are going to spend lots of money in an attempt to get out of the current financial crisis".

Obama's popularity soared. David Ignatious joined the bunch of pundits who praised Obama.

...

Posted by: tropicalfolk | February 25, 2009 1:47 AM | Report abuse

wow tropicalfolk, you are a wonder at political analysis! you've discerned all by your lonesome that in times of trouble people look to their leaders for inspiration! by the way, it's "barrack" not "barak." and thanks for reminding suffering americans that his middle name is "hussein." it's really relevant in a crisis. by the way, do you have ANYTHING relevant to add to the discussion about our national woes, or are you just another blowhard rethug with no ideas, no empathy, and absolutely no understanding of what we're facing? you repubs are really something. 8 years of supporting the disastrous criminal policies of the odious bush and cheney that has gotten us into this mess, and nothing but negativity, cheap shots, and wrongheaded b.s. unless you g.o.p. morons have anything of substance to add (an apology would be nice), why don't you and limpballs and coulter and malking do this nation a huge favor and STFU?

Posted by: memorybabe1 | February 25, 2009 2:33 AM | Report abuse

I second everything memorybabe1 said.

Posted by: johng1 | February 25, 2009 5:50 AM | Report abuse

I guess a charismatic man can lead a group of people over a cliff. After all, Jim Jones talked those people into drinking the kool-aid. And then there was the guy that lead his group to catch a ride on Halley-Bop, and then there was the guy that helped transform the German's Nationialist Socialist Party...

Posted by: totalkaosdave | February 25, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

President Obama is leading us and ALL of us, workers, employers, investors, bankers, and government officials, need to put aside our separate agendas and work together to get us out of this depression. Every oar has to row. President Obama is exhorting us, but each of us has a responsibility to fulfill and not shirk it off onto someone else. We can only correct this mess by working together.

Posted by: candorman | February 25, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse

OB is just another snake oil salesman.
This country is great in spite of politicians, not because of them. They are part of the problem, not the solution.
OB has never had a "real" job and doesn't have a clue about what real people do out here in the provinces when we go to work, pay bills, etc.
UGH

Posted by: tantz | February 25, 2009 8:25 AM | Report abuse

What is it with people who get caught up in the blather of a speech. Obama's popularity is tanking and negative ratings are soaring.

Posted by: tom2 | February 25, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

hahahahaha ... didn't have to wait long for that ubiquitous hitler reference.

sorry, talktoaosdave, but your gonna have to try harder. that meme is sooooooo lame.

Posted by: mycomment | February 25, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

I don't know if she was drunk, but she was awake. AB

Posted by: jimsbier | February 25, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

@tantz
Can you please explain what a "real" job is? "Community Organizer", "Senator", "President of the United States", last time I checked those were real jobs. Even more, these are jobs that you have to be elected to by "real" people. So please for all the haters, if you are just going to talk @#$% and not have a solution then you are no better than the "snake oil sales man".

Posted by: SCtoDC | February 25, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

SCtoDC don't forget

deli sandwich man, icecream scooper, tutor, community organizer, civil rights attorney, staff attorney, law professor, state representative, senator, etc.

Posted by: Reader4 | February 25, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Obama's speech was a breathe of fresh air!

And Ignatius has nailed the contrast with his predecessor perfectly: "eight years of botched words and shrugs and smirks".

Thank Goodness that that shallow, rigid, little man, who confused leadership with acting out as a bully, is off the national stage.

Posted by: careysub | February 25, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

It's so nice to have a President who doesn't smirk. Did you notice that during the past 8 years we've been governed by smirks? By Bush, by Cheney, by all the neo-con ideologues, like Bill Kristol? Failed frat boys with smirks: that was the intellectual content of official America. Now we have adult language, in complete sentences, and the face and manner of a grownup. How refreshing. Maybe we will grow up as a nation, and take pleasure in the challenges of living.

Posted by: eheath1 | February 25, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Listening to the way conservatives are absolutely flipping out about Obama really does persuade me of the need to partition the USA into separate red and blue countries.

If we as a people can't even live together in the same reality, I don't see how we can live together in the same country -- without eventually resorting to violence.

Posted by: PeterPrinciple | February 25, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

The republocult is running low on ideas, hence, they are bringing out their old boilerplate numero uno: TAXES. ie the fear and loathing of them.
The current talking point will be that Obama is going to raise taxes, when the truth is that, the tax item in question was passed with a time limit which is going to expire, and the same republocultist congress droids who will be repeating the talking points relentlessly are the same ones who voted for it. Thats right the repub congress of the Bush years is going to raise the taxes on the well to do next year and try to blame it on the Dems for not stopping them LOL.

Posted by: rkerg | February 25, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Obama was presidential, reassuring and clear. It was a good speech, timely and thoughtful. This man is not a fool nor a parrot..... and America noticed.

Posted by: DaveinStLouis | February 25, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

tantz, are you serious?

Thanks to the reader above who posted Obama's list of jobs throughout his career ...

when he worked as a professor, he taught constitutional law. Definitely requires more brain power than his predecessor.

I have to think that your comment "hasn't had a real job in his life" reveals that you don't know much about Obama's history but just want to spew hate.

Posted by: citygirl1 | March 1, 2009 12:12 AM | Report abuse

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