02.25.09

In His Element

President Obama genuinely seems to enjoy the challenge of running this country in this difficult time.

Barack Obama likes being president. If there's anyone left who doubts it, they didn't watch this speech.

The worst economic crisis since World War II, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Islamic extremists who don't really care this president's middle name is Hussein, and Mr. Cool still relishes the task. He genuinely seems to enjoy the challenge of running this country in this difficult time. He looked less tired and less stressed than John McCain, who only has to sit in opposition. But then again, if I were a Republican up for re-election, I'd be pretty stressed watching that performance.

What worked was the direct appeal to the 300 million Americans living outside the few square miles of the nation's capital. This was kitchen table not four-star restaurant table. He addressed the concerns and frustrations of people around the nation: high-school dropout rates, kids who won't switch off their videogames, hard-working Americans angry at Wall Street's cavalier banking practices and cavalier-er bonuses. Mr. Obama has read the polls and seen the people are prepared to give him not just their approval but time to fix this mess—and he is prepared to talk straight to them. Among the best lines of the speech, just six words, "I promise you—I get it."

And in return he offered hope, but a hope inspired by their fortitude. The White House didn't release the excerpt about American factory workers, entrepreneurs and farmers being the hardest working people on Earth for nothing. This is how the Obama administration says, "Thanks and bear with us."

So Main Street will be happy. It's Wall Street we'll have to watch. There wasn't much in this speech to improve on Tim Geithner's failed bank-rescue announcement. And in the end, Mr. Obama's presidency will succeed or fail based on the devilishly complicated details of high finance, not his well-honed gift for high rhetoric.

Katty Kay covers US politics for the British Broadcasting Corporation and is Washington correspondent for BBC World News America. Kay is a regular contributor on Meet the Press , The Chris Matthews Show and a guest host for the Diane Rehm Show . She is the author, with Claire Shipman, of the upcoming book Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success.