Obama Hits His Stride

I didn’t have the time to do a full State of the Union reaction post, though I wanted to but suffice it to say, I think it was one of the most effective speeches Obama has ever given. It wasn’t the most inspirational, nor did it have the most soaring rhetoric, but that’s not really what the situation called for. Obama needed to project confidence and strength, both to the nation and to Congress, and I thought he did that very well. The speech ran a bit long and contained the requisite laundry list of proposals, but interspersed within were digs at Republicans, both procedural and substantive. He dinged them on the filibuster and climate change denialism. He laughed, he poked fun, he was light and jovial throughout. And more importantly, you could visibly feel the spirits of Congressional Democrats lifting. By about the mid-point of the speech they were smiling, laughing, tossing amused glances at uncomfortable Republicans. As I saw someone (Chait maybe?) remark, Pelosi and Reid should have gaveled their chambers into session after the speech and passed the entire agenda right then; it certainly looked like they might have had the votes for it.

But that pales in comparison to what Obama did today. Going to House Republicans at their retreat in Baltimore, Obama fielded questions from the most vehement of his opposition, the House Republican caucus, and he ran circles around them. One thing I don’t think conservatives realize is what talk radio has done to their attachment with reality. You can toss something around the echo chamber, unchallenged, and it starts to sound pretty good. When someone a lot smarter than you is handling the nonsense in real time, to your face, well, that makes you look quite a bit dumber (and it doesn’t help that House Republicans are really dumb to begin with). When you couple this with the address Wednesday night, it’s been a very good couple of days for the White House. They’re clearly back on top of the political world, at least for now.

What does it mean on a substantive level? It’s hard to say, but something has clearly had an impact on Congressional Democrats. Nancy Pelosi is absolutely determined to pass healthcare reform, and even Kent Conrad and Ben Nelson are holding out the possibility of going to reconcilliation to pass a bill.  A lot of Democrats clearly understand that they have to do healthcare reform, for political, policy, and moral reasons, and the momentum seems to be back, at least somewhat. Is that because of the White House? Maybe not, but something has lit a fire under very key players in the caucus to make this happen.

There’s hope yet.