State of Mind
In its modern televised incarnation, the State of the Union address is typically designed to reassure Americans that the president has the situation at hand under control. With recent polling showing that a large majority of citizens believe the policymaking process in Washington is fundamentally broken, last night’ edition of this annual ritual took on the added imperative of demonstrating that our system of government is still capable of operating in the ways we expect it to function.
So, that was the frame of mind with which I approached President Obama’s first State of the Union address last night. As the president often does, he gave a good speech. Obama was able to rally Democrats, extend an offer of bipartisanship to Republicans while simultaneously putting them on notice, and throw in some populism for the many citizens who feel caught in-between, both economically and politically.
But I have to say that I came away from the experience with a surprising sense of gloom, and after listening to a wide range of reaction to the speech over the past 12 hours that feeling has only intensified. I think what hit me was the realization that for all of the appropriate notes struck by Obama in his speech last night, nothing much is likely to change in practice. It is pretty clear that Republicans believe they have already found a winning strategy for the 2010 midterm elections, and if the president’s agenda items are truly as unpopular as they claim, then perhaps they are correct and will be rewarded at the polls. But with a little more than nine months to go before Election Day, I don’t expect their approach to change much.
This leaves Obama and the Democrats to basically go it alone, as whatever bipartisan rapprochement emerges from the speech will be short-lived. The president still needs some sort of legislative victory on health care, and we can now also throw in bank regulation and a jobs bill to boot. If he can’t get at least some of these through the legislative process, given his majorities in Congress, then he will have to hope that voters are really angry at Republicans, rather than disappointed with him.

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