Listless, List Less, Less List
Americans wanting results will have to demand it
With Obama being “listless” and the Republicans being list less, what’s America to do? I mean Obama has toned his rhetoric and it seems he might be in for administering his way through the balance of his single term in office. Republicans, on the other hand, seem intent on not putting anything on their to-do list thereby also being list less.
“Judging success of Obama's speech will require two yardsticks
By Dan Balz
After the theatrics and the rhetoric and the canned responses, two questions remain from President Obama's first State of the Union address: Did he succeed in persuading nervous Democrats not to cut and run on his presidency; and will he succeed in making Republicans think twice about their united opposition to almost all things Obama?
Those were certainly the underlying objectives of Obama's speech Wednesday night. He needed to stiffen the spines of Democrats, who are now justifiably worried about surviving the wrath of a disgruntled electorate in November. He wanted to challenge Republicans by warning that voters may hold them as responsible as Democrats for the breakdown of functioning government in Washington. And he needed to reconnect with the voters after a year in which he became a virtual prisoner of the unseemly machinations on Capitol Hill.
The State of the Union speech is a president's best opportunity to speak to the country, and there was much in Obama's address aimed all Americans. His concentration on jobs and the economy was a tardy admission that he and the Democrats had become so consumed with health care that they had taken their focus off the main worry of average families and paid a political price for that lapse.
His proposals spanned the ideological spectrum as his radar sought to lock in on disparate groups of voters: more tax cuts for small business; more nuclear power plants and offshore drilling for conservatives; more education spending for suburban families; a spending freeze for deficit hawks; a renewed pledge to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for the left. And, for anyone willing to listen, there was the promise to keep fighting for health care.
There was also much in the speech, both in tone and substance, aimed at wooing back the independent voters who helped elect him but who have deserted the president and his party in the year since he was sworn in. That was one reason he talked about bringing the government under control -- after a year in which he spent huge amounts of money to pull the economy out of a recession.
There were moments, too, when he was attempting to speak to his liberal base. The progressive foot-soldiers who brought energy and passion to his campaign have been, if not disillusioned, then at least disappointed that Obama has not lived up to their lofty expectations.
But it was the frank talk to those listening in the House chamber that made Obama's speech notable. More than many State of the Union addresses, Obama's talk was a conversation between a president and the lawmakers of both parties who have been engaged in political combat since the moment he arrived in the Oval Office -- and who are deeply affected by the upset victory of Republican Scott Brown in last week's special Senate election in Massachusetts.
"After last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual," he said. "But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, a supermajority, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership."
For the Democrats, that plea not to run for the hills may have been focused principally on the administration's health-care initiative, which is now in limbo because Democrats no longer have the 60 votes needed to shut off debate in the Senate.
The president said, "Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close." But he offered no alternative path for those in his party who have labored for most of a year without success. At best, his was an appeal to the rank-and-file to give him and their leaders in Congress some time to sort through the rubble, to settle on a new strategy and to give it a chance to work. But nothing he said Wednesday changed the grim reality he and the Democrats face on their signature issue.
For the Republicans, his goal was to unsettle their caucus by reminding them of the risks of not cooperating. The GOP's success in opposition has convinced them that just saying no to this president is, for now, a winning strategy. But the president still commands higher ground with the public. Every poll shows that he remains personally popular, well liked and in many polls seen as a strong leader. Republicans may be in better shape than they were a year ago, but they are hardly back to full strength in the eyes of the public.
Republicans must tread carefully in their opposition, as their more responsible leaders seem to recognize, and check the excesses of those who most disagree with the direction Obama has charted. Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell's Republican response walked that line effectively.
But there are many angry voices within the party. Obama's effort to entice Republicans to govern may resonate with the public, which in turn could put more pressure on the GOP leadership to show more good faith in trying to find areas of cooperation. Nothing in the overnight reactions, however, suggests any instant success in that strategy.
White House officials, looking at their post-speech analysis and the instant polls, concluded that Obama had helped his cause, particularly with independent voters. Advisers saw the speech as a circuit breaker after the tumult of the loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts and, at least temporarily, something that will bring Democrats back together as they start the election year.
The key to this is what Obama does next. What was most striking about Wednesday's speech was the long closing section on the country's broken politics, delivered to a hushed chamber. This was Obama seeking to regain the footing of his successful campaign, this time as a chastened leader rather than the rock-star politician who swept into national consciousness with such clarity of voice and vision.
It was almost as if he were speaking to himself as he closed out his speech. "I campaigned on the promise of change -- change we can believe in, the slogan went," he said. "And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change -- or that I can deliver it."
That is the challenge he now faces, the core issue one year into his presidency. Can he deliver?
Doctor to patient: "I'll die trying."
Patient to doctor: "I'll die waiting."
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St. Louis, Missouri, United States