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Not a Game-Changer

Obama deserves credit for embracing conservative ideas like deficit reduction and a spending freeze. But he failed to see the need to rein in his liberal agenda.

01.28.10 12:09 AM ET

The problem with State of the Union speeches is that they are by their nature and design alphabet soup. It’s hard to know what a president really cares about when they run down a laundry list and check every issue box under the sun for fear they will offend some constituency if they don’t.

What I had hoped to hear Wednesday night from President Obama was that he recognizes that the world and reality he faces as president is vastly different than the world he saw as a candidate. And with that recognition would come a resolution to temporarily shelve many of the campaign promises on issues like energy, health care and immigration. And, yet, despite a growing public concern that Obama is trying to do too much, he didn’t seem tonight to acknowledge the need to limit his agenda in order that he might provide sharper focus on the economy and jobs.

The reality is that the speech he gave tonight in terms of his agenda hasn’t changed much from speeches he was giving a year ago.

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It was good to hear Obama embrace some conservative ideas like a spending freeze, a commission on deficit reduction, tax cuts for businesses who hire new employees, pay-as-you-go and earmark reform. And Republicans would be wise to endorse, embrace and work with the president on these issues. Republicans must pick a few issues and prove that they are not simply going to reject the president on every issue for purely partisan reasons. It was embarrassing to see Republican leadership sit on their hands even when Obama went through a litany of tax cuts he has supported.

It was reassuring to see Obama avoid resorting to overheated populist rhetoric. It doesn’t come naturally to him and while attacking big business and banks may generate easy applause lines, it is not responsible leadership. Obama continues to come across as serious, sober, and thoughtful. While much of his agenda may appeal to the liberal Democrats, this speech was more evidence that Obama is more of a pragmatist than an ideologue. He gave a nod to health care, but made clear that jobs is now his No. 1 priority and he’s not going to resort to political legislative tricks to ram the health-care bill through to appease the left.

The speech was good, but not a game-changer. I think a week from now, the picture of this presidency will look largely the same.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-chair of Arts & Labs, a collaboration between technology and creative communities that have embraced today's rich Internet environment to deliver innovative and creative digital products to consumers.