She said the speech was OK, but nothing special.
President Obama's speech was not a pivot, a lunge or a plunge. It was a little of this and a little of that, a groping toward a place where the president might successfully stand. It was well written and performed with élan. The president will get some bounce from it, and the bounce will go away. Speeches are not magic, and this one did not rescue him from his political predicament, but it did allow him to live to fight another day. In that narrow way it was a success. But divisions may already have hardened. In our current media and political environment, it is a terrible thing to make a bad impression in your first year.At the heart of the speech was a contradiction.
I thought she also had some interesting insights into Obama gleamed from a Republican member of Congress. Her friend said that Obama won't, can't move to the center because he's an ideologue. He's committed to his agenda right or wrong, whether people are behind him or not.
The central fact of the speech was the contradiction at its heart. It repeatedly asserted that Washington is the answer to everything. At the same time it painted a picture of Washington as a sick and broken place. It was a speech that argued against itself: You need us to heal you. Don't trust us, we think of no one but ourselves.
The people are good but need guidance—from Washington. The middle class is anxious, and its fears can be soothed—by Washington. Washington can "make sure consumers . . . have the information they need to make financial decisions." Washington must "make investments," "create" jobs, increase "production" and "efficiency."
At the same time Washington is a place "where every day is Election Day," where all is a "perpetual campaign" and the great sport is to "embarrass your opponents" and lob "schoolyard taunts."
Why would anyone have faith in that thing to help anyone do anything?
As the TV cameras panned the chamber, I saw a friendly acquaintance of the president, a Republican who bears him no animus. Why, I asked him later, did the president not move decisively to the political center?
Because he is more "intellectually honest" than that, he said. "I don't think he can do a Bill Clinton pivot, because he's not a pragmatist, he's an ideologue. He's a community organizer. He mixes the discrimination he felt as a young man with the hardship so many feel in this country, and he wants to change it and the way to change that is government programs and not opportunity."
He also told Noonan the big problem is spending. Democrats don't get it and Republicans are only a little bit better than Democrats on this issue.
The great issue, this friendly critic added, is debt. The public knows this; Congress and the White House do not. "To me the Republicans are as rotten as the Democrats" in terms of spending. "Almost."
"I hope we have big changes in 2010," the friend said. Only significant loss will force the president to focus on spending. "To heal our country we need to get the arrogance out of the White House and the elitists out of the Congress. We need tough love. We need a real adult in the White House because we don't have adults in the Congress."
Given who's in power and their mindset, I think we're headed for greater economic difficulties. Tough and tougher times are still ahead of us. The President and Congress aren't willing to change course, so we'll keep heading down the path of more government spending and more debt and the resulting economic dislocations and problems.
As Noonan's friend suggests, everybody is at fault, but Obama and the Democrat Congress will take us in the wrong direction faster.