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The Fate of the Union


Obama and Biden meeting with the governors this morning. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Obama must achieve a number of outwardly contradictory goals in tomorrow night's address to a joint session of Congress -- essentially his first State of the Union speech.

He needs to explain how the extraordinary spending spree required to stimulate the economy and stem the foreclosure crisis is not actually in conflict with his intention to halve the deficit in four years. He has to be blunt about the severity of the current financial crisis, while at the same time expressing confidence in a strong recovery. He needs to play to the ultimate inside-the-Beltway audience in the room, while simultaneously speaking directly to a huge national audience that has grown skeptical of Washington's ways. And he needs to rebut the partisan attacks on his stimulus and mortgage plans, even as he calls for an end to tit-for-tat politics and urges members of both parties to work together.

All in a night's work for the Great Explainer? Perhaps.

Obama may have telegraphed some of his strategy this morning, when he addressed the nation's governors at the White House.

He described the extraordinary stimulus bill he signed last week as a plan "to put Americans to work doing the work America needs done" that will "make an immediate impact while laying the foundation for a lasting growth and prosperity."

He vowed to end "business as usual" when it comes to federal spending, promising "to watch the taxpayers' money with more rigor and transparency than ever."

And while acknowledging "legitimate concerns" from Republicans about some small parts of the stimulus package, he lashed out once again at the level of political discourse in Washington -- and particularly on cable television.

"I just want us to not lose perspective of the fact that most of the things that have been the topic of argument over the last several days amount to a fraction of the overall stimulus package. This sometimes gets lost in the cable chatter," he said. "I just want to make sure that we're having an honest debate ..

"[I]f we agree on 90 percent of this stuff, and we're spending all our time on television arguing about 1, 2, 3 percent of the spending in this thing, and somehow it's being characterized in broad brush as wasteful spending, that starts sounding more like politics. And that's what right now we don't have time to do....

"What I don't want us to do, though, is to just get caught up in the same old stuff that inhibits us from acting effectively and in concert. There's going to be ample time for campaigns down the road."

And early this afternoon, kicking off a "Fiscal Responsibility Summit" at the White House, Obama talked about fiscal restraint. "As we take the steps that we must to get through the crisis we're in now, we will not lose sight of the long-term," he said. "I refuse to leave our children with a debt they cannot repay."

As for tomorrow night, Jeff Zeleny writes in the New York Times: "President Obama will use his first address to Congress on Tuesday to present a road map for 'how we get to a better day,' a senior adviser says, in a speech intended to explain his economic policies and argue that legislative revisions on health care, education and energy are crucial to lifting the economy.

"The appearance before a joint session of the Senate and the House offers an opportunity for Mr. Obama to reprise some themes and initiatives from his campaign that have been overshadowed by the economic emergency that has defined the first month of his presidency....

"While the presidential address will be threaded with themes of optimism, in part to counter some criticism that Mr. Obama has been 'talking down' the economy, aides said his words would reflect the harsh reality of the challenges facing the country.

"'This is a speech to look forward, not back,' [senior adviser David] Axelrod said. 'The country is looking for a clear sense of direction. This is an opportunity to talk to the nation about that.'"

Matt Spetalnick writes for Reuters that "with his approval ratings high and his presidential honeymoon far from over, he will seek to regain momentum this week and build on an early flurry of legislative successes, financial initiatives and diplomatic moves....

"He will also lay out his broader agenda, including the goal of revamping health care, something he promised during the presidential campaign but which critics say is unrealistic now given budget pressures from bailout and stimulus measures...

"'This is a ritual for all new presidents,' said Stephen Wayne, a political scientist at Georgetown University. 'But considering the desperate economic situation, you can be sure people are going to be hanging on every word.'"

E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "When President Obama addresses the nation tomorrow, he should not be distracted by Washington's obsessions over partisanship and ideology....

"In our battered industrial heartland, there is... a strong sentiment that the president should disentangle himself from Washington as much as possible, hard as that may be for a man who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. His obligation is to be the nation's leader, not the capital's ringmaster....

"[W]hen it comes to bipartisanship, the point is not the numerical count of Republicans who vote for this or that. It's whether frightened citizens sense that government is working."

Jonathan Alter writes in Newsweek: "He knows that now is not the moment to cheerlead, not when the financial players are lying dazed on the field. There will be time for that, when the banks have been 'restructured' (see, that sounds better than 'nationalized') and the credit starts flowing again....

"Obama is betting on two things: first, that people are so tired of being bamboozled that a little straight talk about their woes will make them feel more in control, the prerequisite for genuine confidence. And second, that he'll get props for trying, that the very effort of riding events instead of letting them ride him will at least offer the illusion of mastery. Once these mental pieces are fastened in place and we're fully 'in recovery,' to use therapy lingo, the enduring problems won't seem so terrifying anymore."

But New York Times opinion columnist Maureen Dowd worries that Obama is missing a key emotion: "Mr. Obama's egghead manner has failed to soothe a nation with the jits. Maybe he has been so intent on avoiding the stereotype of the Angry Black Man, as he wrote in his memoir, that it's hard for him to connect with and articulate public anger about our diminishment.

"Though he demonstrated in the campaign that he has a rare gift for inspiring the country with new belief in itself, Mr. Obama has not yet captured either the grit the moment requires or the fury it provokes."

By Dan Froomkin  |  February 23, 2009; 2:04 PM ET
Categories:  Financial Crisis  
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Comments

The Barack-Star cannot make nice with these intransigent Republicans. And I say that as someone who is very tired of the rancor that this town brims with.

The hubris, hypocrisy and childishness displayed by the GOP and its Fox News talking heads beggars description. If BarackMan Hussein Overdrive can steamroll Michael Steele, these birth certificate fixated he's-not-really-president idiots, Glenn Beck and Lindsey "Get me my fainting couch" Graham, then he ought to.
Like the Super Chief on a downhill grade.

Posted by: crix | February 23, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

President Obama already has a blueprint for the economic recovery of America.He simply has to undue and reverse the failed economic policies of George W.Bush and the inept Republican party who followed him so blindly.For eight long years the American people have been the victims of partisan politics at its'worst.Under Bush and the Republican party Americans have seen their lifestyles decline,their rights as citizens diminished and Americas' place in the World eroded as never before.Simply being elected President does not guarantee success,but it does open the door to accomplishments not available to the ordinary person President Obama understands this,unlike Bush and his followers. President Obama can and will rise above the pettiness of "Politics as Usual".We are entering one of the most dangerous times in our history.President Obama has the potential to acheive Greatness,to snatch Victory from Defeat to provide leadership as Lincoln and F.D.R did in the past.The Republican Party should wake up and do what is right for America. President Obama will and can govern without the Republicn Party.Eight years of Obama's success,will marginalize the Republicans and make them even more irrelevant than they already are.Their only chance to avoid disaster is to become something they never have been, bipartisan,

Posted by: wcoffey20 | February 23, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

He needs to be blunt and frank tomorrow in his comments....and make it clear that while he wants Republican's to work with him to be a part of the solution....his ultimate commitment is to the people who elected him, and they can either help paddle the boat or simply get out and drown.

Posted by: constwkr | February 23, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

nice post, wcoffey20. Right on every point. I would simply add that Republicans, now morphing from neoconservatives into neo-confederates, will NEVER co-operate with this President under any circumstances whatsoever. They believe they are dooming the country into voting for them, but, in reality, they are dooming themselves.
Watching them insult the President tomorrow night in front of the whole nation will be but one more nail in their own coffin.

Posted by: cms1 | February 23, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Maureen Dowd is a columnist (and I use the term advisedly in her case) I cannot stomach. Churlish, fixated on minutiae and without a truly analytical bone in her semi-dessicated body.

Someone please find that paper a real columnist. Liberal or conservative. Then again, the Post could use some real columnists. They could find somebody (say a college kid who got a good grade in Composition & Style) to replace Gerson, Krauthammer, Parker and Cohen.

Posted by: crix | February 23, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Under Bush and the Republican party Americans have seen their lifestyles decline,their rights as citizens diminished and Americas' place in the World eroded as never before.
Posted by: wcoffey20 | February 23, 2009 3:28 PM
================
Hmm...the Census report in the fall of '08 said that more people had made more money than ever before under Bush. As for the rights being diminished? You are a liberal drone. Instead of keeping us safe, you want to invite the terrorists in? Uh, I think not. As for America's place in the world eroded? What planet are you from? More people are coming to this country every single day in search of the American dream. Who cares what the libs in Europe or elsewhere think (especially through the lib media). This is still the greatest country on Earth.

Posted by: leeh11281 | February 23, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I am an Aussie who used to religiously read your column on a daily basis but no longer - the new format sucks.

Posted by: jamesmmoylan | February 23, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Dan, what happened to your old format? The Australian reader is right: this one isn't very . . . er, ah, isn't very . . . um, it's not very good.

Posted by: sailmaker1943 | February 23, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

leeh1128 said:
Who cares what the libs in Europe or elsewhere think (especially through the lib media). This is still the greatest country on Earth.
___________________________________

Haven't you heard? American exceptionalism is dead mate.
It was murdered by a Neocon President.
America now has no option but to care a great deal about what the rest of the world thinks because you are now a debtor nation.
You might believe with all of your heart that 'America is the greatest country on Earth' but that hardly cuts much ice with all of us global citizens who are digging our way out from under the huge pile of stinking odure that you guys dropped on us.

Why don't you try the same mentality out on your bank manager next time you need a loan?
"Ah, G'day. I need a huge pile of money and I deserve it because I am exceptional. Well yes I know that I already owe you about ten trillion dollars but you gotta remember that I am exceptional."

I think that America is about to suffer a very rude awakening.

Posted by: jamesmmoylan | February 23, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

For the Aussie, jamesmmoylan and sailmaker.

Notice the better, old format changed as soon as Bush left office?

Coincidence?

Perhaps.

Perhaps not.

Posted by: furtdw | February 23, 2009 5:01 PM | Report abuse

furtdw - you are right

the scales fall from my eyes and at once I see clearly:

IT'S ALL A LIBERAL CONSPIRACY!!!!

I'm off now to join a Neocon militia (as soon as I have my brain surgically removed)

;-)

Posted by: jamesmmoylan | February 23, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I live in the land of the Brave and the Free
And while I mightn’t know nuffin politically
I know just enough that it’s easy to see
Everythin’s the fault of a Liberal conspiracy

Posted by: jamesmmoylan | February 23, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

jamesmmoylan

How odd?

I just returned from a neocrat conference on fiscal prudence.

I came away thinking their brains had been surgically removed.

All the best.

PS. Your correct about America about to receive a rude awakening.

The only one worse than Bush is Obama.

If Bush was a third rate fireman, Obama is a first rate arsonist.

Posted by: furtdw | February 23, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I think the childish and naieve behavior is on your side of the aisle and not the GOP's. All of you are not questioning what Barrak is proposing or doing... but taking blind faith that what he says is right. How is the economy grow, when Congress just basically passes a bloated Government Omnibus bill? The measures in this bill will not put people back to work at the many corporations that have laid folks off the last several months. Public works and infrastructure jobs won't solve the unemployment, and those are only temporary working funds.... what happens when the projects are completed and the money runs out?? Are we going to ask Obama and Tim "tax cheat" Geitner to print another trillion dollars??

Bottom line here is that Government grew to twice its spending size under Bush... the budget in the last few years is the biggest it has ever been in our history. So if we spent like drunken sailors the last 4 years.... how can anyone be confident that more government spending will pull us out?? All its going to do is depreciate the US Dollar, and cause a massive run-up of inflation with all that printed money that will go into the system.

Please folks... look at the actual material before blindly accepting his proposals.... if you don't you are just following the pied pippers tune over a cliff.

Posted by: alutz08 | February 23, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

I usually like Maureen Dowd's commentary, if not always agreeing. But her piece talking about President Obama .. using "egghead" anti-intellectual sorts of slurs was beyond frustrating. If she's too dumb to follow what he says, she should have someone translate for herself. Same for any American who "insists" the President simplify to child-like surrealism what is an inherently complex real-life situation. I want him to say it straight, don't spin it like former President Clinton suggests - don't dumb it down like Ms. Dowd suggests. Say it straight. Reality-based governance is SUCH a refreshing contrast to Mr. Bush's presidency .... keep it going, honored President Obama!!!

Posted by: Mill_in_Mn | February 23, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Hey! All comments are way too aggressives. I'm sorry, but I never saw any benefit to our federal government when George W. Bush was prez. So now that we have to deal with these problems, let's not get angry, let's actually try to help society. I can dream, can't I?

Posted by: sailorflat | February 23, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

President Obama has been regularly presenting his message since he won the election. He is unlikely to say anything dramatically different tomorrow night. The expectation that he has repeatedly set is that economic recovery will take years rather than months and our situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Somehow all those supporters of free markets seem to think the President has the power to wave a magic wand and make them money by changing the direction of the stock market. He also has repeatedly said that he does not plan to extend the Bush tax cuts. I doubt he will say anything different tomorrow or magically make everyone happy with his talk.

Posted by: dnjake | February 23, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Haven't you heard? American exceptionalism is dead mate.
It was murdered by a Neocon President.
America now has no option but to care a great deal about what the rest of the world thinks because you are now a debtor nation.
You might believe with all of your heart that 'America is the greatest country on Earth' but that hardly cuts much ice with all of us global citizens who are digging our way out from under the huge pile of stinking odure that you guys dropped on us.

Why don't you try the same mentality out on your bank manager next time you need a loan?
"Ah, G'day. I need a huge pile of money and I deserve it because I am exceptional. Well yes I know that I already owe you about ten trillion dollars but you gotta remember that I am exceptional."

I think that America is about to suffer a very rude awakening.

Posted by: jamesmmoylan | February 23, 2009 4:59 PM
=====================
And that, you can thank the liberals for.

Posted by: leeh11281 | February 23, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

As of this moment, I only dream of reading a comment in the Washington Post forums which is free of misspellings and grammatical and syntax errors.

President Bush butchered our language beyond recognition. "Arbolists" is still my favorite quote. Can any of you, Democrat or Republican, do better?

Regards,

Danjiri

Posted by: Danjiri | February 23, 2009 8:16 PM | Report abuse

I have never been a regular reader of this column, so I don't know what's different now or what some other commenters now don't like. Perhaps a comment slightly more analytical than it "sucks" or "isn't very good" would let the rest of us in on the conversation. I have no idea what those two commenters are referring to and would be interested to know. Seems fine to me.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | February 23, 2009 11:17 PM | Report abuse

"Hmm...the Census report in the fall of '08 said that more people had made more money than ever before under Bush."

The Census is conducted once every 10 years. One was conducted in 2000, and one will be conducted in 2010. There is no such thing as "The Census report in the fall of '08."

You should consider revising your citation and providing an actual link to the thing you are citing.

Posted by: VTDuffman | February 24, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

With no Clintons to kick around, Dowd has been focusing on populist outrage over the banking crisis.

Posted by: Mo_MoDo | February 24, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Maureen Dowd is basically a gossip columnist. She will snark and snipe at whoever is in power, based not on what they are actually proposing or doing, but on their style and the buzz around them. She is bad news for serious female columnists, because she reinforces the notion that women are catty airheads who don't take issues seriously.

Posted by: herzliebster | February 24, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand why people are so hostile to the word liberal. It means "not limited to established, traditional, orthodox views; free from bigotry; open to new ideas for progress; tolerant of ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded." This is bad, why?
Conservative means "Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change." This is good? Conservatives apparently want everything to always stay the same. No change, no growth. Isn't it time to move into the One World space, where we are all connected and responsible for one another? Because if we don't change our ways, we're going to destroy the planet. How come conservatives don't understand this basic fact? I'm mystified.

Posted by: shaman7214 | February 24, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Wake up America! We were not governed by a President for the last eight years,we were ruled by a would be dictator who was never wrong,just ask him.This was an unacceptable situation to American voters who voted Bush out and gave Obama a mandate to corrrect the mistakes of an incompent President and do-nothing Congress.Republicans are responsible for the current financial debacle and should not be opposing efforts to fix the problems they are created.This blatant hypocracy is obivous to the American people and will result in even more Republicans voted out of office.

Posted by: wcoffey20 | February 24, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

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