There was a different vibe in the room as the family gathered to watch President Obama deliver his first State of the Union to a joint session of Congress. Last year’s excitement had been replaced by a quiet anticipation as Obama and the Democrats had gone through numerous setbacks and false starts in trying to push a progressive agenda through a surprisingly resistant Republican front.
In 2009, Obama was the candidate of change and hope who looked to be at the peak of his political power. What a differene a year makes. Now his hair was noticeably grayer and he looked like a man who had found out governing is a helluva trickier deal than campaigning.
I sat there kind of bored for the first half-hour when he went down the grocery list of items that he wants but probably won’t get.
By the time he finished my wife was pumping her fist and remembering why she voted Obama in the first place. I was a bit more serene, but still glad that he showed some fire, dinged both parties and took some of the weight on his own shoulders. I liked the sub-title of an article at SLATE that went, Obama reminds his own party to keep its head and the other party to stop losing its mind.
But I don’t think he moved the goalposts.
Democrats are tired of Obama extending a carrot to the Republicans only to get the dirty end of the stick in return. They want him to fight back and hammer the GOP for their refusal to get on board of…oh, pretty much anything the President wants to do.
The Republicans feel like as long as they say, “Not just no, but HELL NO” to the President,” and they don’t suffer any blowback politically from the voters, why negotiate with Obama now? Wait until November when there’s more Republicans in Congress than Democrats, and Obama will have to cut deals with the GOP more to their liking. It’s the smart move politically as long as the voters don’t punish them for refusing to come to the table.
It’s a sorry way to treat the electorate that needs help, not partisan games, but that’s the way it go when political calculation supplants good governance.
I did like when Obama reminded his fellow Democrats they still had the largest majority either party has enjoyed in decades (now do something with it!) and chided Senate Republicans for demanding 60 votes to pass virtually anything while refusing to fully particpate in any actual legislating. It was extra sweet when Obama publicly slammed the Supreme Court for overturning years of laws to allow corporations and labor unions to spend freely in political campaigns. That was too much for Samuel Alito who was caught mumbling “Not true” when the President spoke.
What isn’t true, Sam? That you and the four other conservatives on the Court handed the Republicans a gift in time for the fall elections?
But this was Obama’s best line of the night.
I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it.
But remember this – I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.
Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.
But I also know this: if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.
When you try to do things a little different than how it’s been done before and you try things that haven’t been tried before there’s going to be resistance and pushback and those who aren’t going to get on board no matter what.
Obama will get a small boost in the polls, but the waters this winter in Washington are still as chilly as ever.