It was a Clintonian speech—and I mean that as a compliment. The president was calm, confident, and defiant; the speech was sprawling but dotted with policy details, aimed squarely at moderates and the middle class.
It was not so much a reset as a rediscovery of the themes from the ’08 campaign—with lifted lines like “we are one nation,” also featured in Obama’s first presidential campaign commercial, and dismissals of “politicians who tear opponents down instead of lifting people up.”
• More Daily Beast Writers on the State of the Union AddressBeneath it all, the two main themes were the economy and attacks on the cynical, bitter partisanship that still dominates Washington. And there was the president trying to present his record as a tax-cutter (a claim which will last until his budget presentation next month) with a renewed focus on small businesses, budget freezes, and deficit-reduction—a reminder that not so long ago, Barack Obama campaigned on a return to fiscal responsibility.
There were small, unexpected policy outreaches to the right like nuclear power and the carrot of a trade deal with Colombia. The left got gays in the military. And while Beltway types roll their eyes at proposals like bipartisan monthly meetings and bipartisan deficit panels, that’s the kind of bridging of divides that caused independents to vote for Obama in the first place.
As the president acknowledged in a stirring and eloquent close, the culture of cynicism and division will not dissolve overnight or without a fight. It has been a difficult first year with many disappointments. But Americans don’t quit, they persist—and ultimately overcome.
John Avlon’s new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America will be published soon by Beast Books both on the web and in paperback. Advance orders can be placed here. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.