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Obama's message was jumbled, but his pitch was perfect

Thematically, President Obama’s State of the Union address Wednesday night was a bit of a jumbled pudding, with left, right and centrist ideas all packed together. Tonally, however, it was a masterpiece. Obama made clear he understood the gravity of the nation’s problems, took a fair share of the responsibility for the failures of the past year, and, having established himself as the most sober man in the room, proceeded to chastise much of the rest of our political and governmental elite for backing off the efforts to solve our problems and, by so doing, eroding Americans’ faith in their government.

He confronted the conservative members of the Supreme Court, seated directly in front of him, for granting corporations more control over our political process than they’ve ever enjoyed. Associate Justice Samuel Alito could be seen shaking his head in disagreement, but when a justice signs on to a decision so corrosive of democracy itself, he should be prepared for some push back.

Obama cautioned a Republican Party united in opposition to his every move that if it persisted in subjecting every issue to a 60-vote senatorial threshold, then it, too, had to assume the responsibility for governing. And without specifying what, exactly, he wants in and what he wants out of health-care reform legislation, Obama made clear to the most craven members of his own party -- Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.), the whole spineless bunch -- that they still have large majorities in both houses of Congress, and that, “people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills.”

He became the tribune of our collective exasperation.

For those who parsed his text, he so often noted that the House had passed key bills on which the Senate still dithered that it was clear he was singling out the Senate for shaming. (Parsing this point was made easier by the applause emanating from Nancy Pelosi every time Obama made this distinction.) For more casual viewers, Obama simply and successfully positioned himself as the guy who had taken on the job when our problems were greater than they had been in many years, who had tried his best to solve them, and who had been thwarted -- as we all had been thwarted, I think he convinced many Democrats and independents -- by a political establishment that had for various reasons shirked its duties. In this sense, the speech was a stunning performance.

Programatically, however, it was all over the map. Politically, it may have had to be all over the map. On the one hand, Obama came before Congress facing much the same disillusion and anger with the Democrats that Bill Clinton faced in the mid-90s, when Clinton went so far as to declare the era of big government over. Obama made no such sweeping declarations, but he did embrace such historically conservative jobs-and-growth ideas as offshore drilling, nuclear energy, and small business tax cuts. Moreover, he made clear that despite the jobs bill he was promoting, he believed most growth would have to come from the private sector -- a clear departure from the Democratic approach to the Depression of the ’30s, when their response to the private sector’s inability to generate jobs was to enact massive public jobs programs. Similarly, when Obama set a goal of doubling our exports, he spoke chiefly of signing trade accords, not of establishing an industrial policy so that we can rebuild enough manufacturing to become again a net exporter.

And, yet, it’s not 1995. Democrats, as Obama pointed out, still have large majorities on both sides of Capitol Hill. And so he did include passages about boosting green manufacturing and rebuilding our infrastructure. He compared, unfavorably, our underinvestment in education and infrastructure and key industries to the quickly rising levels of investment in China, India and Germany. The subtext here was a compelling critique of conservative economics: that by opposing investment in our public sector and aid to key industries, it weakens our ability to compete in the global economy and our power generally.

“China’s not waiting to revamp its economy,” he said. “Germany’s not waiting. India’s not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.”

“Well,” he continued, “I do not accept second-place for the United States of America.”

No president has ever delivered so direct a strike to the soft underbelly of contemporary American conservatism, or one that resonates more with Americans’ hopes for their nation.

Similarly, Obama took a tough line on banking regulation, threatening to veto a bill that failed to protect consumers from the banks upon which they depend and to which they loaned trillions over the past two years. He called for a repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays and lesbians, perhaps reasoning that with so much energy going into the fight over gay marriage, and with gay marriage opponents protesting loudly that they actually have nothing against homosexuals, now is the time that the ban could be overturned.

More than any president I can recall, Obama used this State of the Union to move left, right and center simultaneously. But his pitch -- and this was no small feat, given the diffuseness of his programmatic message -- was perfect.

By Harold Meyerson  | January 28, 2010; 12:42 AM ET
Categories:  Meyerson  | Tags:  Harold Meyerson  
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The President's message was jumbled, he launched attacks against everyone, the Supreme Court, the Military, the Senate (repeatedly), the Democratic leadership of the Senate, the US people (who dared oppose him, the fools), the Republicans (repeatedly), G.W. Bush (repeatedly).....How's all that going to play come legislative season this Spring-Summer?, he obfuscated on security (Gitmo? Did we "win" in Iraq? Iran? Taliban? what about the KSM trial? )

And his tone came across as an arrogant and angry lecturer scolding those stupid American voters who dared oppose him. This speech was pretty much of a disaster. Is Mr. Obama a real politician? Doesn't seem like he can listen.

Posted by: wjc1va | January 28, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

It is probably a good thing. The Republicans will now have to hit hundreds of targets. Good luck getting all of them.

Posted by: AMQ1 | January 28, 2010 1:03 AM | Report abuse

"we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it."

When does this President learn if ever. The toilet overflows and you clean it out because you need a toilet. The banks had to be saved to provide lending. After all the trillions the bankers still will not lend since they want the large bonuses from playing roulette with the insured deposits. If instead of making the Democrats the party of Wall Street this President would have brought back Glass Steagall the banks would be lending and not creating simply another mess that will have to be cleaned up again. The job of this President was to make the banks work again.

"we extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans"
"Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America's businesses."

Americans want jobs and there will be no jobs if American jobs are allowed to be sent to other nations. There is no possibility of a healthy economy based upon non exportable jobs. Either this President and the government stop companies from sending the jobs of the 21st century involving computer technology to other nation, or this President and government take steps to provide continuous food stamps and unemployment payments for teens of millions of Americans. There can be no jobs for Americans when American jobs are simply sent to other nations. Nations in the 21st century do not survive by turning their back on the future and pretending that small businesses with limited resources will be the engine that creates tens of millions of jobs for Americans.

Americans do not need an angry President that pretends to rant and be angry.

Americans need a President that will fix the real problems and stop campaigning for 2012.
India may get $1 billion in IT outsourcing contracts
Reuters November 23, 2009
The newspaper said JPMORGAN, GOLDMAN SACHS and MORGAN STANLEY that received approval to pay back government stake worth $68 billion earlier this year are among the firms seeking operational efficiencies by outsourcing non-core IT and back-office projects to India.
IBM to Cut 5,000 Jobs. Washington Post March 26, 2009
Officials began notifying employees on Wednesday and throughout yesterday about the layoffs. Technology services giant is in the process of shifting a large number of jobs to lower-cost regions, such as India.

Posted by: bsallamack | January 28, 2010 1:53 AM | Report abuse

Obama's speech sounded like a socialist looter's list after a natural disaster.

This is not a president who understands the problems of the citizens of this country.

This was the speech of a man who sees his window of opportunity for left wing larceny closing.

I do not believe that one Democrat in that building cares for the middle class of this country.

One should remember Meyerson is also an unrepentant socialist - which of course his why he brays about Obama's empty promises.

Posted by: krankyman | January 28, 2010 1:54 AM | Report abuse

The Republican Response: Predictable and Dull.

Shields, On McDonnell...

"Ancestry Worship"

Regarding McDonnell's References to Thomas Jefferson.

Keep in mind Thomas Jefferson had All or Most of his Possession's Taken by State-Federal Governments and that left him Bitter as well as Resentful towards State and National Government.

Irony: The Big Bad Federal Government Saved Banks, Wall Street, AIG and American Auto Corporations The [Free Markets] Corporate Welfare is in Vogue.

In McDonnell's Eye's [Corporate Welfare] is [A-OK] Tax Payers should live with that, but [People's Welfare] should be Excluded, Not Permitted.

No Rescue Plans or Bailout Plans for Hard Working Americans Huh.

That's easy for McDonnell, he has a Job.

Ronald Wilson Reagan Bailed out [Saving's and Loan] and that Bill will not be Paid Off until [2013-2014] Reagan Bailed Out Medi-Care and Preserved Social Security [Entitlements] Yet McDonnell Omits these Facts.

Reagan also Wanted and Worked on Ending Nuclear Weapons, Reagan also Borrowed Both Nationally and Internationally and left the Bill for George H.W.Bush, who had to Raise Taxes and Lasted only 1 Term because of Tax Increases to Deal with Reagan's Debts.

Richard Milhous Nixon Wanted to Implement Universal Health Care For All, But McDonnell Omits this fact as well.

Richard Nixon and Universal Health Care

"Turning now to the rest of the agenda for 1974, the time is at hand this year to bring comprehensive, high quality health care within the reach of every American. I shall propose a sweeping new program that will assure comprehensive health insurance protection to millions of Americans who cannot now obtain it or afford it, with vastly improved protection against catastrophic illnesses."

(Richard Nixon, January 30, 1974)

I'm Tired of Republican's Politically Convenient Amnesia.

Posted by: omaarsblade | January 28, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

It's kind of hard to make a push for nuclear energy on the one hand when you praise it publicly but cancel the utilization of the Yucca Mountain waste storage facility with less fanfare. It's kind of hard to make a push for Middle East peace when you criticize Israel publicy but approve loan guarantees for 2010 and 2011 in secrecy. Although I suppose it would be difficult for Obama now to disapprove McDonnell's request to drill offshore now that he's publicly signed-off on it.

Obama needs to match his strong rhetoric with deeds. That's what will ultimately convince the American people. Most Americans and especially those who do not live on either coast, are not bothered by ideas from "all over the political spectrum"; what they want is ideas that are practical and get things done, regardless of whether this idea is "Democratic" or "Republican".

Posted by: ripvanwinkleincollege | January 28, 2010 7:03 AM | Report abuse

As always, thank you Comrage Meyerson.

Мир Революция сейчас!

- The Smolny Institute

Posted by: ej_smug | January 28, 2010 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Let's cripple this clown in the fall and then send him packing to his birthplace Indonesia in 2012.

Posted by: tjhall1 | January 28, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Harold, your back must hurt by now, you've been carrying the water for so long. Will you be writing something original anytime soon?

Posted by: wadeb123 | January 28, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

To bsallamack, You posted the same response the Gerson's SOTUS response blog. Copying and pasting responses is not original, is sort of lazy. Obama's gave a good speech and he admitted he made some mistakes. The Dems need to compromise on parts of the bills they present to Congress or they will never get anything done. And the Repubs, saying "No" to everything is not governing and there should be some middle ground that you can meet the Dems on to help the American people. Repubs can't blame Obama and The Dems for everything wrong in the US, you have to work too.

Posted by: | January 28, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: styrutdhfgjytieuyrgdef | January 28, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

How did he attack the military?
He praised them, and the efforts to provide them support when they came home, and promised more.
He also promised to get rid of Don't Ask, DOn't Tell which for one thing has removed over 200 American Translators from the military and as a result insured at least a few US deaths due to lack of understanding or Intel.

It was an speech by an adult President, and I was very proud of OUR President.

Posted by: Muddy_Buddy_2000 | January 28, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

There seem to be three issues to be addressed: (1) Jobs but the stimulus money went to his friends; (2) The wars and terrror but he and holder have blown it;
and, (3) The health care bill and he's blown it. Result: he's a one term johnny.

Posted by: DANSHANTEAL1 | January 28, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Dear Mr. Meyerson,
You might be correct that His pitch ... was perfect. Unfortunately, there is no follow through, its all just well-spoken hot air.

Posted by: bruce18 | January 28, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Strong on Defense, continued Bush's program to bail out Wall Street, tax cuts for 95%, tax cuts and incentives for small businesses to hire, nuclear power, clean coal, offshore drilling, 3 year freeze on non-Defense spending, pay as you go, no capital gains tax for small business. OMG, Obama's a Conservative.

More stimulus, increases taxes on incomes over $250k, health care, incentives for college students to pay off debt, tax the big banks, fund local banks to give small business loans, cap and trade, clean energy, healthcare. OMG, Obama's a Liberal.

67 minutes were bi-partisan. Yes, Obama's a Moderate.

Only spent 2 minutes chiding the Republicans for fighting 2 unfunded wars and unfunded tax cuts which doubled the National debt in 8 years. The Republicans sunk in their chairs, squirming like embarrassed school boys caught looking up the girls dresses. I thought some might die of shame.

Obama's final words - Stop the partisan bickering. Both parties are responsible to do their job and fix America. Yes, Obama is more statesman than politician.

Time for all to put America first and their petty politics second. Time for the Party of Debt Doesn't Matter to take responsibility for their actions and get to work with the Democrats to fix America. Time for all Conservatives to demand the Party of No join Obama in a bi-partisan fix of America. Alternatively it is time for all true Conservatives, as in debt does matter, to abandon the Republicans.

Posted by: chucky-el | January 28, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Too willing to fight to be number one in the world it seems because defense spending is sacred. If it were for defense rather than offense there might be a case for it but close to 1000 worldwide bases and a budget greater than the sum of all other countries combined appears excessive to me in view of our economic and infrastructure catastrophe. If defense sepending is not cut then you can be sure that our economic situation is not being taken very seriously! Nor is any other important issue in our country being taken very seriously if this degree of military entitlement is maintained as the preeminent necessity. The fact is that this degree of military spending is helping to cause more problems for us worldwide than it is solving.

Posted by: Wildthing1 | January 28, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Wow ... can you guys control your seething hate for this President even for a minute? I now know that whatever he says, from conservative to liberal statements, you will disagree because you so hate the man. And I bet you don't even know why you hate him so much. I can understand disagreement, but I imagine you guys hyper-ventilating at the mention of his name. Chill out! He is not evil incarnate. He is doing what he thinks needs to be done. You have not seen the likes of the truly liberal, progressive, left-leaning idealists. This president is no way near what they are.

If he did nothing, like you wanted, the country would have gone to shambles financially. So now that it stabilized some, you hate him for having to pay for the correction.

If you disagree with his approach, vote in another conservative so that we can protect the rich again. That is the goal right? Cut taxes (economic policy), get rid of health care (its a privilege, not a right)... let the old and poor get sick and die (cost savings) ... cut back on health and human services (socialism), become the most hated nation on the planet (national pride) ... and put those gays, Mexicans and other minorities in their place (protect our culture) ... oh and kill more of them Muslims (religious freedom for Christians only). That platform will win now I guess. I hope it makes you happy.

Posted by: crw901025 | January 28, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Time for all to put America first and their petty politics second.


This is like asking Americans to stop rooting for their favorite football teams. I don't think there are too many people left who really care about what actually happens just as long as their party wins at the election bowl.

Posted by: ponkey | January 28, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

And his tone came across as an arrogant and angry lecturer scolding those stupid American voters who dared oppose him. This speech was pretty much of a disaster. Is Mr. Obama a real politician? Doesn't seem like he can listen.

Posted by: wjc1va | January 28, 2010 12:53 AM
Or perhaps as a confident clear-sighted person addressing a chamber full of egomaniacs and cowards and nation of whiners and yahoos.

Posted by: mnjam | January 28, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

The Truthful State of the Union Speech Obama should have given:

I am the Commander in Chief with No Military experience, I am the Chief Executive with No Executive experience, I have No business experience, NO economic experience, NO financial experience, No Foreign affair experience, No mayor, NO governor, Nothing. And I surround myself with Tax Cheats, Chicago thugs, incompetents, radical loony perverted Czars and has Democrat accomplices in congress that can't even READ the trillion dollar pork packages and Obama/Pelosi Government Crap Care they put their X on and inflict on Americans. I quadrupled the deficit in months which hasn't stimulated a flea, just added to the already bloated government that will keep Americans in financial bondage for the unforeseeable future. My future polices of Cap and Trade and other onerous AGW hoax policies will further kill businesses especially small businesses and destroy the American dream and surrender the sovereignty of the United States. And my idea of redistribution of wealth is insane and has the mind­­­set of a Chicago thug. Tingly legged Obama voters, you out did yourselves.
Unemployment is at 10% (17.5% if you include those that stopped looking and those with temporary jobs) and RISING, Taxes on EVERYBODY will be rising(just watch, I mean EVERYBODY), Businesses in financial straits...
Yes America, I failed you miserably. I am just a Neophyte socialist with no experience. The truth is, I am an empty suit....
With this confession of truth, I have to follow in the footsteps of that other Great Liberal , Lyndon Baines Johnson', "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president."

Standing O.............Standing O....... for he's a jolly good failure for he's a jolly good failure.........Standing O........Standing O....... ..

Posted by: sophic | January 28, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

The Republican response to Obama's State of the Union address was almost as weak as Howdy Doody's (Bobby Jindal). First, how many people know who McDonnell is? Second, who were all those constantly applauding people around him, legislators or just Republicans acting like grateful performing zeals who had gotten their fish? Does McDonnell know that Jefferson was the founder of the Democratic party? Does he know that most historians think Jefferson was a poor prophet when it came the kind of country the US would become? He hoped it would be a nation of small farmers, not corporations which the Supreme unleashed upon country in its recent decision about campaign finance. You would think the Republicans would quote Alexander Hamilton, an arch-conservative, pro-business founder who wanted American to become an industrial and military power. But then when have the Republicans done anything rational or constructive lately?

Posted by: DWSouthern | January 28, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

the GOP has flatly stated that their success lies with the people with the least education. there is a backlash against people who think. this is not to say party leaders are uneducated, but that they do not wish to educate their followers. they are not alone, a recent recruiting guide by the taliban terrorist advises getting people who are not scholars. during china's cultural revolution, intellectuals were disposed of as a matter of course. Pol Pot and his gang re educated intellectuals (at times unto death).
In America there is no real reason for this, educational standards have grown so lax and individual achievement so frowned upon that the sheeple try hard to keep within the herd, don't stand out.
hence we have a nation that is being told that the excesses of the previous eight years must actually be paid for and sacrifices must be made. and blind unreasoning panic has hit. we are stupidly listening to the drunks that wrecked us tell us that if we run really hard we can get from first to third without getting tagged. might even be true. the real problem is that we are not playing ball, we are in a foot race and we are listening to people tell us that third is better for us than first, after having told us that their bets are on our failure.
my disagreement with the president is that the message he needs to send is that things are very bad, America needs to work very hard to just stay where we are now and even harder to make progress. Let's do nothing sounds too much like "let's play Russian roulette". do nothing and let the "free market" correct things and Hugo Chavez will be rushing north to kick our butts and take us over. this is not because the president is wrong, but because Americans have become too afraid to try. and fear really is the mindkiller.

Posted by: curiousblack | January 31, 2010 1:37 AM | Report abuse

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