Long on bipartisanship, short on specifics
seemed so caught up in the spirit of bipartisanship in his State of the Union address Tuesday that he forgot he still is the leader of the free world.But for Barack Obama - bipartisanship means sculpting legislation the democrats will vote for that will make the republicans drool
He gave nods to both Democrats and Republicans, and employed some nice turns of phrase about working together, but he didn't say enough to inspire the opposition or his own party on the serious challenges the nation faces.
Most disappointing: He acknowledged the long-term need to control deficits, but he offered only a token freeze on discretionary spending without proposing anything nearly as bold as what will be needed to make significant savings. Meanwhile, he failed to make a compelling case for why Congress should postpone serious budget cuts in order to keep fueling the economic recovery right now.
The speech had some good moments, suggesting themes we'll undoubtedly see in his 2012 re-election campaign. Some brought to mind previous presidents: It was reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's ability to inspire lofty ideals with soaring rhetoric and leave you feeling this was a great country after all. It had a wonky Jimmy Carter-like feel with Obama's talk of a new Apollo program. It had some of that old George W. Bush braggadocio, saying to al-Qaida, "we will defeat you." And it had some laundry-list qualities of Bill Clinton's speeches.But it had nothing original - it was an amalgam of old tropes and bromides, designed to help the liberals sleep well tonight
Some of Obama's policy initiatives were recycled, such as clean energy and infrastructure investments, and others were thin on specifics, such as adding 100,000 science and math teachers, improving community colleges and increasing the number of college-educated Americans. He rightly renewed his appeal for the DREAM Act to keep children of illegal immigrants in school and in America if they pay their dues. He defended his health care law while inviting lawmakers to suggest improvements. The only meaty new idea - a government reorganization - was brought up, and then dropped without any details on what that would entail.
The best lines that summarized the overall theme: "A 21st century government that's open and competent. A government that lives within its means. An economy that's driven by new skills and ideas."
Who could disagree?
Everybody wants more jobs now to put the more than 14 million unemployed Americans back to work. But the president is right that we also need to be prepared to take the next steps in order to compete in a global, post-recession economy.
The president clearly sensed the nation's mood for Congress to work together, and he is right that the measure of cooperation will not be who sits together for the State of the Union but "whether we can work together tomorrow." Facing the challenges of unemployment, encouraging small businesses, training tomorrow's workers "is the project the American people want us to work on. Together."
It was interesting to observe during Tuesday's address in the House chamber that the bipartisan seating plan seemed to result in more applause where the two parties could grudgingly agree. It would be nice if this sort of bipartisanship, however lukewarm, can be shown when the president and the Congress go back to work today.