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State of the Union: Obama plays grown-up

A speech is words. A State of the Union speech is a performance. President Obama had more than an hour’s worth of words Wednesday night, much of them moderate in tone, moderate in ideology and proposing programs -- tax cuts, more nuclear power plants - that could have come from the mouth of a centrist Republican, should any of them still exist. But it was his demeanor, his poise, his supreme self-confidence that spoke volumes. He was supposed to be chastened from the debacle in Massachusetts, but this was Obama’s best speech because it was, so far, his worst moment.

A speech is like theater. There comes a moment when, sitting in the audience, you forget there’s a stage. Sometimes the moment comes late, sometimes not at all. Obama’s moment came more than halfway through. “Now, I am not naïve,” he said. And then talked. He did not deliver a speech as much as a lecture, a homily, a reminder of how things once were and ought now to be. He conjured up a Washington where things once worked.

“I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era,” he said. “I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched. And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways.” He asked for an end to petty, partisan bickering, for always being on the lookout for a political advantage.

“What frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game.”

It was all so commonsensical. It was all so mature. For those moments, Obama seemed the only adult in the room, the one talking for all the American people, pleading not for this bill or that program but for decorum and civility. This is what a president should do. This is why he is head of state and not just of government, chief magistrate and commander in chief of the military. “I don’t quit,” he said by way of summation.

Apparently not.

By Richard Cohen  | January 27, 2010; 11:25 PM ET
Categories:  Cohen  | Tags:  Richard Cohen  
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Next: What was said about don't ask don't tell


I saw a man with the courage to call it like he ses it and look in their eyes while doing it. I wonder if the American people will finally recognize that one man can't do it without a team behind him and this team has been on the sidelines squabbling most of this last year

Posted by: Opinionated8 | January 27, 2010 11:52 PM | Report abuse

PLEASE!!!! "commonsensical" is NOT A WORD, and should never be! a) Common sense is an oxymoron, b) even if were not (even economists have abandoned "rational comsumer" models), making it a one- word adjective is bloody silly.

For the speech: steadfast adherence to principles for which we elected him, eloquent humility AND pugnacity, 70 minutes of clarity and coherence. What a change from past SoU speeches!

The man has big, brass ones - he might not have the accumulated political debts that Lyndon Johnson had, but I won't count out the possibility that he may surpass Johnson's achievements (preferably without a Gulf of Tonkin/Viet Nam!). He's got fire and, as he said, no quit!

Posted by: fr3dmars | January 28, 2010 12:40 AM | Report abuse

Dear Mr. Cohen,

My reaction to Obama's "performance" is that it was pathetically evasive. Here are a few examples.

1. He never apologized for the dismal failure of his Iran policy.

2. He never apologized for his Justice Department's mindless decision to grant the Christmas airline bomber the right to remain silent after only 50 minutes of interrogation.

3. He never apologized for scrapping his pledge that health care reform deliberations would be conducted publicly.

4. And, worst of all, he never apologized for wasting a whole year on his big government agenda and letting unemployment reach 10% after pledging to cap it at 8%.

As for Obama's effort to portray himself as above partisanship, it doesn't pass the straight face test. From the day he was inaugurated right up to the present, he never made any genuine effort to accomodate (or even seriously consider) the views of centrist Republicans.

Posted by: hartlex | January 28, 2010 1:24 AM | Report abuse

does this writer write his own headlines. 'cause, you know, the President actually is an adult.

Posted by: daphne5 | January 28, 2010 1:45 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.
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Posted by: bsallamack | January 28, 2010 1:52 AM | Report abuse

Spot on analysis by Cohen.

Posted by: Jeff-for-progress | January 28, 2010 2:00 AM | Report abuse

To bsallamack: Well, I see the paid GOP bloggers are out in full-force this morning! But you've gotten lazy! You can't even take the time to come up with something different! This is the THIRD thread I have read where you have cut and pasted the exact same post. Apparently you didn't get that memo about not making as much when you cut and paste; to get your full $1, you have to post something DIFFERENT each time! Heck, you might wanna try posting under different names to at least try to convey that somebody agrees with you. But I know it's way past Rush's bed time, and he isn't there to coax you word for word.

You may not have any solutions...but you sure as hell contribute to the problem! Your credibility rating: ZERO!

Posted by: Drewster1 | January 28, 2010 4:34 AM | Report abuse

Who are the Centrist Republicans I keep hearing about ? Obama met with snow, are there others. It takes two groups for Bipartisanship and the Repubs just no how to say no. Conservatives and Teaparty types are the party of Me. What will it get me ? Wise up America.

Posted by: Falmouth1 | January 28, 2010 6:03 AM | Report abuse

"State of the Union: Obama rows up."......Cohen

What do you mean by that oldtimer? You start your column by stating that speechesou know what Cohen: Columns zre also words.

Like i, the famoous song: Word, words, words ----- it's only words.

So, Cohen? Don't you feel some patronizing tone here, or is' it , once again just words. I guess you're once again acting the old wise man of the beltway.

Tell me? What's a grown up? Are you yiourself a grown up. What standards do you apply to youself to see if you are one of them?

Because,by my standards,you are not a grown up columnist. A hacjk, or a sheel, that is totally fright? You ha e proved it today. Bsut have been for some time now.

Happy New Year, antway dear fossil.

Posted by: foxblues | January 28, 2010 6:13 AM | Report abuse


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

Mr Cohen is exactly wrong. More than anything else, what this pathetic speech showed was that the president afraid of confronting the truth and he would rather revert to campaign mode vs governing like an adult. His shameful ostricism of the Supreme Court in this venue was totally classes. What we found out more than anything is that Obama is loser

Posted by: gagalbert | January 28, 2010 6:32 AM | Report abuse

Sorry for the tecnical problems, paragraphs 1 ans 2

please read :
" You start your column by stating that speeches are words. You know what Cohen? columns and Neocon editorials are also words. Empty words most of the time, but very lethal, now'n'then.

Like in the famous song: "It's only words...."

So Obama plays grown-up. Meaning: "you know, he's just a kid from out there; in Chicago, a smart Aleck playing it all. A nice fellow, but so immature, not up for this huge task.

Huury up and have the Kraut show you the way it morks.
Hopfelly Granny Cohen is keeping watch. Like a great sage of Wa Po.

Thinks himself a giant in his trade. A Pulitzer, a Crondike or a Albert Londres.
Somebody must be charitable to tell him the whole truth about the candid idea that he's a grown up and a journalist.

A hard case. Maybe Dr. Kraut can give opinon, as a about this item.

Posted by: foxblues | January 28, 2010 6:32 AM | Report abuse

I see a whining response from a leftie 6 or 7 posts in about right wing bloggers already weighing in when all I see are an abundance of acolytes willing to ignore the glaring omissions and monumental misrepresentations of his lack of accomplishments in the last year and tonedeafness to the clear will of the people. Other than compounding the massive spending of Dubya exponentially in only 1 year, what promise has he delivered on? I'll save you the pathetic attempt at the blame Bush game. That statute of limitations has run out and Obama has had a clear majority in both houses. THIS IS OBAMA's Presidency. He should take ownership of it and not just cherrypick things he can spin as positives as there are damned few real ones.

Posted by: theduck6 | January 28, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

There should have been a laugh track for that vapid, nonsensical speech. The boy-king is completely LOST.

Posted by: vinman | January 28, 2010 7:53 AM | Report abuse

bsallamack @ January 28, 2010 1:52 AM: Just what is that post supposed to say or mean? It is irrelevant!

Posted by: AMviennaVA | January 28, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

"that could have come from the mouth of a centrist Republican, should any of them still exist."

Unfortunately I can think of only 2 'centrist Republicans'. For example, last Sunday I listened to an interview of McConnell where he was asked pointedly what he wanted Obama to propose that he would agree to. He never answered the question. Did not even mention 'tax cuts' or some such platitude. In other words, he will not support anything that is proposed, period!

That unfortunately is the essence of the problem that the Republic faces these days.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | January 28, 2010 8:15 AM | Report abuse

"that could have come from the mouth of a centrist Republican, should any of them still exist."

Unfortunately I can think of only 2 'centrist Republicans'. For example, last Sunday I listened to an interview of McConnell where he was asked pointedly what he wanted Obama to propose that he would agree to. He never answered the question. Did not even mention 'tax cuts' or some such platitude. In other words, he will not support anything that is proposed, period!

That unfortunately is the essence of the problem that the Republic faces these days.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | January 28, 2010 8:16 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 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Thanks! Nice article. Obama is the only adult in Washington. What a contrast to the smirking Cantor and Boneher. They looked like the class bullies waiting to throw spitballs.

Obama has nothing to apologize for - he has tried to get the Republicans to the table. They should be returning their salaries for doing nothing. Just saying no to everything is not governing!

Posted by: hockeymom1 | January 28, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Hartlex wrote:

My reaction to Obama's "performance" is that it was pathetically evasive. Here are a few examples. [...]

2. He never apologized for his Justice Department's mindless decision to grant the Christmas airline bomber the right to remain silent after only 50 minutes of interrogation.

I don't mean to quibble, but there's an important distinction here. The right to remain silent is *not* "granted" by the Justice Department - nor the Executive Branch, Legislative Branch or the Judicial Branch of the Federal government, for that matter.

It is a right that is codified in the Constitution, which regulates the conduct of the entire Federal government.

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Posted by: styrutdhfgjytieuyrgdef | January 28, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

A grown up ??? After he blasted the recent Supreme Court decision because he didn't like it ? obama needs to grow up...

Posted by: kalisdan | January 28, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Once again, the American people have had the privilege of hearing their great President deliver one of the finest, right on the money speeches of his illustrious career. He was great. Let last night's speech be a reminder to all worried sad sacks among Democrats and cynics among Republicans: never underestimate Barack Obama.

Posted by: ilipduck | January 28, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

`Obama plays grown-up'

Then what the hell has this BobbleHead doing for year other than spending trillions of dollars for nothing, playing patti-cake with foreign policy and kissing up to people who hate us?

Grown-up? Buffalo Bagels! Leftists don't know what adulthood is. Most still live at home with their parents. Or have taxpayer-funded jobs.

Posted by: AlongTheWatchTowers | January 28, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

cohen came to praise obama

now where is krauthammer.

Posted by: razor2 | January 28, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

my bet says this is the worst president the united states has ever had.

all the praises in the world from people too afraid to voice their real opinions are a waste of time.

mr cohen dont be intimidated by the fickle populace.tell us what you really think.

Posted by: razor2 | January 28, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

obummer is a rabid liberal ever sucking on his alinsky binky and planning "how can i pull another fast one?" the people aren't as stupid as you socialists think. we can reason through your "commonsensical" nonsense.

Posted by: alecsandertheg8 | January 28, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Hockeymom1, you are delusional

does NO REPUBLICANS invited to planning the healthcare bills, locks changed on committee room doors to keep republicans out and droning on about being the "party of no with no alternatives" sound lie he has tried to be bipartisan? It is an outright lie. Tort reform, portability across state lines, real competition are just part of the patform the right has done a terrible job of promoting but to say they have no agenda is an outright lie.

Posted by: theduck6 | January 28, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

To the right wing Nutjobs of the nation. YOU LOST THE ELECTION...GET OVER IT NOW..Either stand up and start helping this country or just move out of the way.

Posted by: RockStorm_Radio | January 28, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I love the way Cohen sets up his own faux tension and then always has his hero save the day or his villain ruin it.

In this case it was all his hand wringing over Obama being an "adult". Lo and behold, after another meaningless speech, Obama has caste himself as a sober and wise leader to be followed fawningly. Thank you Richard!

In another recent case it was the preliminary wonder about McCain being such a maverick. Maybe he was the kind of guy we could all vote for? How would this play out? With Cohen's knife sitting in McCain's back a few weeks before the election.

You want how every story ends? Forget the build up. Go with the most exaggeratedly liberal solution and you will eventually find Cohen spouting it (despite what misgivings he might have had earlier). The only known exception to this rule are cases where the liberal position conflicts with Israel's national interest. Even then, there will be tons of hand wringing before the inevitable, constant, 100% support of everything Israel does.

Posted by: scott3 | January 28, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Coeh,

Being a liberal and a grown up doesn't dovetail. Keep trying, you are making me laugh!!

Posted by: cschotta1 | January 28, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

"I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks. I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need."

Who but a socialist doesn't think that the banks will simply pass this fee on to their customers?

Posted by: PhilThijou | January 28, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

HARTLEX reveals the ignorance that underlies most of our political dialogue. Obama does not run Iran or its policies and foreign policy is made over decades not months.

Obama wasn't sitting in the interrogation room with the latest terrorist and he wasn't protecting terrorists with his policies but your rights and mine.

Last but not least, Obama took charge, with a highly partisan congress, of our affairs one year ago. It took years of congressional neglect for economy to unravel and believing that Obama can fix it in a year is ridiculous. Also many of us heard Obama predict that unemployment would reach ten percent and only slowly retreat from that after the banking fiasco was delt with. Exactly how you come to your conclusions, other then through a mind meld with the likes of Limbaugh, Beck and O Reilley, is beyond me.

Posted by: tryreason | January 28, 2010 11:14 AM | 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 12:11 PM | Report abuse

"It was all so mature. .. Obama seemed the only adult in the room, ..., pleading ..for decorum and civility"

Inteligent "adults" who want people to work together do not take advantage of their podium for personal attacks nor to blame those who cannot respond.

Obama's was the behavior of a frustrated child and showed complete LACK of understanding of what the words "decorum and civility" even means.

Posted by: sally62 | January 28, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Based on what I've seen over the last year, I'd say "groan up" is the appropriate attribution to his mere words.

Posted by: infuse | January 28, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Love all this hyperventilating over The President's comments on the Supreme Court decision. He simply called a spade and spade and did it to their faces. The decision was so outlandish that even Sandra Day O'Connor felt compelled to make her disagreement known.

The five ideologues who've continually decried "judicial activism" have now revealed themselves to be "judicial activists."

Posted by: BrooklynDemocrat | January 28, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Yes, but did anybody see the snotty snarky little Eric Cantor, the GOP whip?

He's the kind of thing that's wrong with congress, let alone the conservatives.

But, of course, he's AIPAC's boy, and even tho unpopular with his colleages, will keep his place. A bow to the money of the Israeli lobby. B ut Americans are catching on...look at Geithner's hearings yesterday.

Posted by: whistling | January 28, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Richard Cohen is a load.

Shill for Obama. Apologist for the left.

Posted by: L1ncon | January 28, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I see the people who gave us George W. Bush, two pointless wars, Sarah Palin and the September 2009 banking collapse are now complaining that Obama is not cleaning up the mess they left fast enough to suit them.

Posted by: Andrea_KC | January 28, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

hartlex and you other republican freaks: PLEASE stop lying. There is no way in hell that you possibly believe some of this stuff. Face reality: He gave a good speech, he's doing a good job, and the Republicans in Congress are ruining this country. We can't deal with all these issues if you guys keep lying over and over. None of that stuff is true - it wasn't arrogant or naive or anything. Just please stop. You know you're lying. We know you're lying. And it's incredibly selfish and counter productive. Please, please stop.

Posted by: Urnesto | January 28, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
Abraham Lincoln

Posted by: amorsolo | January 28, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Amazing, he never once said, "gee, I waste my entire first year as president trying to ram health care down the throats of a skeptical public. Then, to top things off, I had my socialist AG let a terrorist intent on killing hundreds of innocent human beings get a free pass. Ain't I bringing you the change you wanted?" What a total dud muffin.

Posted by: djudge1 | January 28, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

The Party of Deception needs to look beyond MA and the rout this Fall by the Republicans. Those are all now assured defeats. But who will they trot out in '12 as their Presidential candidate? Certainly not the Deceptive Arrogant Hack Barry (ACORN S.E.I.U. MAO) Soetoro again. He sealed that deal last night.

Posted by: jas7751 | January 28, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse


You and your Cult Leader are truly stuck on stupid.

Posted by: jas7751 | January 28, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

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