28 January 2010

The dog who caught the bus

It's no surprise that I thought last night's State of the Union address was uninspiring, predictable and simply more of what Candidate Obama ran against in 2008.

The president called on Congress to embrace his post-partisan rhetoric, yet turned around minutes later and snidely ridiculed Republicans for ignoring the "overwhelming evidence" of global warming. I thought this entirely unbecoming of a president, and something that has no place in such a dignified setting. Can you imagine if Bush would have tried such a trick?

Obama also evinced no desire to change course on the health care battle; rather, he effectively told Congress, "give me something -- anything." I'm not sure if his political advisers -- Plouffe, Gibbs, Emanuel, et al. -- are still so awestruck by his celebrity that they are afraid to explain the opposition the populace has toward the current bill, or whether, like Bush, Obama simply expresses outright disdain for dissenting opinions.

He said he will ignore calls for more incremental reforms and the chatter that he can't do too much at once -- clearly, this was directed to the health care battle. However, the White House could probably garner 75-80 votes in the Senate for a bill that addresses portability, preexisting conditions, and removing the restrictions that keep insurance companies from competing across state lines. If the president was truly interested in bipartisanship, this is the course he would take. However, he continues to make veiled comparisons between people -- like me -- who have legitimate reservations about the size and scope of the current proposals -- and those who opposed civil rights legislation.

Obama also continued to further the fallacy that the government can spend wildly on education, health care, infrastructure and the vague idea of "green jobs," yet somehow freeze domestic discretionary spending and avoid raising taxes. By the way, this discretionary spending Obama speaks of freezing is only 20% of the federal budget. Freezing it after running a $1 trillion deficit last year is almost pointless.

The swagger with which Obama carried himself last night was all too reminiscent of the Bush attitude, circa 2007 -- complete defiance in the face of swelling unpopularity and resounding defeats at the polls. I'm so tired of seeing it. I think most other Americans are, too. Bush was convinced that he was God's hand-picked leader; Obama is convinced, against all evidence to the contrary, of his brilliance and post-partisan foresight.

In short, last night's address was combative, overtly partisan, and quite frankly, petty. If you're a Democrat, you probably loved it. (James Carville said it was "wonderful.") If you're a Republican or independent, the address cemented your impression of Obama as a cocky partisan lightweight.

The more I read about and observe President Obama, the more I become convinced that he's the proverbial dog who caught the bus.

He won an historic election, sweeping into power on the back of what was correctly characterized by the Hillary Clinton campaign as a "movement" -- as noted by Howard Wolfson and Mark Penn, these are almost impossible to defeat. He ran not on programs or policies, but rather on the overwhelming force of his own personality.

He's charismatic, but far from brilliant. He is only inspiring in the same way as the likes of Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck -- he can evoke strong emotions from hard-core partisans, regardless of his policy positions, simply because he strikes the right rhetorical cords and he is culturally familiar to his disciples. But real political leadership requires more than soaring rhetoric and red meat. It requires difficult decisions, and a willingness to challenge your own party -- and these are things that Barack Obama has never demonstrated a capacity to do.

Three-quarters of the way through Halperin & Heilemann's "Game Change," I continue to get the impression that Obama isn't some sort of Manchurian candidate, nor a socialist hell-bent on turning this country sharply to the far left -- rather, he is an empty vessel. He is a messiah to the same liberals that deify Ted Kennedy; he is a hope to redraw the electoral map to normal Democrats like Claire McCaskill; to starry-eyed young voters, he is a phenomenon; and to independents, he represents the distinct possibility of changing the tone in Washington and putting an end to the idiotic rhetoric that has befallen both sides.

After taking office, Obama reached his "now what?" moment.

And after a rambling, utterly inconsequential 70-minute speech last night, one year into his meandering snoozefest of a presidency, I'm not even sure he knows the answer.

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