Please Show, Don’t Tell.

As much as I like President Obama, my initial response to last night’s State of the Union was fairly tepid, if not a little hostile, “Show me some progress and then, maybe then, I’ll be a bit less cynical and a bit more hopeful.”

I stand by that.

This isn’t a new observation, but right now, Obama’s core weakness is that he hasn’t passed a single piece of significant legislation. On the core issues of his presidency — health care, financial reform, the environment — he has yet to secure a single victory. Which, as Ned points out, makes it very difficult to embrace Obama’s rhetoric, even when you want to. And pace Obama, it’s not that liberals or young people or any other part of his coalition believed that he would wave the magical change wand and solve America’s problems. But we did expect Obama to use his gifts — as an orator and a leader — to push and fight for the policies he promised to deliver. That he hasn’t, that he effectively allowed Democrats “to run for the hills” following the Massachusetts election, has made many liberals uneasy about Obama’s commitment to his own agenda.

That said, there is some cause for hope. Obama hit all of the right notes in last night’s speech. He pushed against Republican obstructionism, called out the Senate for its self-interested timidity, criticized Democratic skittishness and reminded his party that they “still have the largest majority in decades.” I think it’s fair to say that Barack Obama devoted last night to laying out his vision, and daring Democrats to abandon him. This is a serious gamble, and for it to succeed, Obama needs to run with the momentum and finally act like the leader that he is.

Picture credit: Linda Davidson, Washington Post


Jamelle Bouie is a writer for Slate. He has also written for The Daily Beast, The American Prospect and The Nation. His work centers on politics, race, and the intersection of the two.

You can find him on Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram as jbouie.
  • Ash

    I still don’t feel as though he came across strong enough in his convictions. He’s so worried about pleasing everybody (which will never happen, especially with republicans) that nothing gets done. Democrats aren’t mad because he wasn’t bipartisan enough. They want him to stop pandering to the right who isn’t the majority. Bush didn’t give a f*** about what Dems wanted and he got his way. Why can’t Obama? He still has the majority.

  • Seth in LA

    I’m not sure I agree that liberals or young people or any other part of his coalition believed that he would wave the magical wand and solve America’s problems. I read the comments in Huffington Post and see a lot of people who appear to have expected just that.

    It’s good, I suppose that you are more cynical than hopeful (sorry if I’m manipulating your words) but it’s even better that the President seems able to tolerate your cynicism and everybody else’s.

    He’s far from perfect, but I feel after the speech as strongly as before that this is a man who knows what he is up against, knows what he has to do in the long run to accomplish what is possible, and has the patience, vision and confidence to (sorry for this next phrase) stay the course.

  • And Guantanamo Bay is still open. Just sayin.