Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Can Obama Get His Mojo Back In the State of the Union?

With the Republicans controlling Congress many believe little constructive will be accomplished over the next two years.  Any progressive measures will die either in the House of Representatives or the Senate.  On the positive side, Obama's veto pen may be able to block the worse elements of the GOP's agenda.  Some have said that Obama needs to study Bill Clinton to formulate how to get back on his agenda and to make at least some progress despite Republican obstruction.  Here are highlights from a piece in The Daily Beast:

This weekend, President Barack Obama is perfecting his State of the Union address, to be delivered on Tuesday. Just as basketball players watch clips of old stars like Dr. J. or Julius Erving—Obama’s boyhood hero—the president might want to download President Bill Clinton’s addresses. I would particularly recommend Clinton’s 1998 and 1999 speeches. Perhaps by watching this political virtuoso, Obama can get his speechmaking mojo back.

As a rare president who enjoyed both politicking and policy-making, Clinton loved delivering the State of the Union Address. Watching him speak to a packed Congress was like watching Barbra Streisand sing, Michael Jackson moonwalk, Tiger Woods golf, or Steve Jobs pitch a product. For Clinton it was New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Commencement Day, and the Fourth of July all wrapped in one. Each January, he framed a new agenda. He catalogued—and boasted about—the old year’s accomplishments. He charted a detailed path infused with a broader purpose. And he celebrated America in the reddest, whitest, and bluest terms.

Clinton’s rock-solid resilience, his insistence on sticking to the public’s business, amazed staffers. His late mother Virginia Clinton Kelley had taught him well: never quit and never show weakness to your enemies.

Clinton conquered Capitol Hill that night. He was a little subdued, but the 71-minute speech was characteristically lengthy, meaty, and just occasionally preachy. He reported that “the Federal deficit, once so incomprehensibly large that it had 11 zeros, will be simply zero.” He balanced between Great Society liberalism and Reaganism, saying, “We have the smallest government in 35 years, but a more progressive one.” He vowed to submit “the first balanced budget in 30 years.” And he had a big bipartisan mission: “save Social Security.”

[M]ost viewers approved of the speech, along with the president’s commitment to doing his job.
A year later, Clinton triumphed again, dismissing the distractions of a Senate trial after the House of Representatives impeached him in December. This exhaustive, sometimes exhausting, 78-minute speech showcased the president at the helm, engaging, commanding, enjoying.

Clinton spoke over the Republicans’ heads directly to the American people, emphasizing the bipartisanship most Americans want but both parties frequently fail to provide. . . . shortly after the 1999 speech, as in 1998, 69 percent of Americans polled approved the president’s job performance.

Since his first inaugural address, Obama has failed to wow Americans with his speeches, as he did so effectively during his 2008 campaign. The weight of actually being president seems to have blocked him from trying to raise Americans expectations through inspiration. Moreover, his cautious, distant, Mr. Spock hyper-intellectual mode and flashes of a surlier Mr. Hyde mode have dispirited even many Democrats. Many yearn for the hipper, happier “Yes-we-candidate” who dazzled in 2008, let alone the people-loving charmer from the 1990s.

Obama can copy some Clinton tactics. . . . Obama can flummox Republicans and appeal to the public by seizing the center rather than lurching left, acting as president of all the people, not a partisan leader of the opposition-to-the-opposition. He can mix sweeping big-picture reforms with more easily achieved, small-bore adjustments that improve Americans’ quality of life. 

I think the article's author is on to something.  Will Obama follow through?

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