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