What President Obama delivered was technically not a State of the Union address. His first will be next January. This was an address to a joint session of Congress, but for all practical purposes it was a State of the Union address and that state is "economic crisis."
Obama is a gifted orator, perhaps the best presidential speaker in memory, and Tuesday night’s speech was a tour de force — bold, optimistic and certainly not lacking in big ideas.
The three big themes of his administration will be the challenges of health care, education and energy. If reforming the schools, extending health care to all and reducing the nation’s carbon footprint and dependence on oil aren’t enough, Obama also plans to overhaul the tax code, reorganize the domestic auto industry and create a new system of financial oversight. Our president doesn’t lack for ambition, but he does it so infectiously that he even had the Republicans cheering.
And he showed that he is not unaware of criticism of his programs to date. As for bankers who sit on the federal money they are supposed to lend and executives who can’t seem to restrain their high-flying ways, he said, "I promise you I get it."
Obama took note of those who said he might have been a little too dramatically pessimistic in selling his $787 billion stimulus package — failure to pass it would cause a financial collapse as "deep and dire as any since the Great Depression."
He now fully realizes that Americans want confidence and optimism in their presidents, and he stood ready to provide it: "We will rebuild. We will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."
Obama has only a few days to bask in the success of his first major address to Congress. Shortly he will submit to lawmakers a summary of his 2010 budget and, if he really does make those "hard choices" his aides have promised, he will surely offend both Republicans and his own Democrats. His political and legislative skills will have to be as good as his oratorical skills for his ambitious, far-reaching agenda to have a chance of becoming a reality.
Obama’s references to the Bush administration were indirect, but he did note "the stark reality of what we’ve inherited: a trillion-dollar deficit, a financial crisis and a costly recession."
Tuesday night, Obama took ownership of those problems. It is now his deficit, his crisis and his recession. We anxiously await what the state of the union will be when he gives that address for real.