02.25.09 9:45 AM ET
Give Him a Break
What else do we want from Obama, really? Since the whole scheme to refloat the American boat is, at best, inspired guesswork, the assignment last night was to radiate confidence without seeming to sell snake-oil.
Obama's stern demeanor punctuated by intermittent flashes of his wide, relaxing smile is his greatest weapon in defusing pent-up angst. You saw it brilliantly in action the day before in the question and answer session with congressmen at the "fiscal responsibility summit" when he had to deal with the grumpy intervention of Senator John McCain. The first public combat between vanquished and victor since the campaign proved yet again why the younger man had won. McCain wanted to know what the hell was Obama doing-well, the Senator didn't say quite that but that was the tone-spending billions on new helicopters (28 to be precise at a cost of $11 billion)? Obama turned it into a wry joke about his own greenness: "The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me... Of course, I've never had a helicopter before. So, you know, maybe I've been deprived and I didn't know it."
It was a coming of age speech, the Candidate morphing into the President in a way not achieved by the formalities of the inauguration.
TV is all about the optics and 80 percent of the American public bought in to the hour-long speech. You only had to watch Bobby Jindal's hopeless effort to be the new, racially inclusive face of the Republican Party-it was like having Dougie Howser, M.D. follow Hugh Jackman MC.
In short, it was a coming of age speech, the Candidate morphing into the President in a way not achieved by the formalities of the inauguration or the chatty radio talk. He managed to combine a daunting realism with a heady vision of a new America that will get things done as it used to get things done-before the greed and ideology screwed it up. It was ballsy of him to reinforce his determination to overhaul healthcare. You could almost hear the intake of breaths among the Republicans— if you think we've had some fights so far, you ain't seen nothing yet. We know it's been a graveyard of visionaries before, but you got a glimmer of hope that Obama really could get it done. (But could he please get a replacement to Daschle lined up fast?)
I know it was standard State of the Union-style choreographed TV schmaltz, but there was a maternal warmth to the way Michelle turned to include the eighth-grade child from South Carolina who wrote to the president that "We are not quitters." As the mother of a high school senior, the speech's most resonant image for me was "the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope"
He gets it.
The New York Times grumbles today that it's disappointing he failed to deliver any more clarity on his plan to rescue the nation's banking system. Give him a fucking break, as Rahm Emanuel would say. He inherited a mess invented by "the best brains" that another set of "best brains" are still disentangling. It's like complaining that Sully, while landing the plane in the Hudson, didn't make sure the meal was being served on time.
Tina Brown is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast. She is the author of the 2007 New York Times bestseller The Diana Chronicles. Brown is the former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines and host of CNBC's Topic A with Tina Brown.