7.57 pm. This was also a speech aimed directly at his own party – rallying the troops, creating a framework for the campaign ahead, betting that things are bad enough that the infrastructure spending and the tax cuts will not alienate debt-concerned independents. In style, the last thing it was was professorial. This was a blunt, potent, confident attempt to win back the hearts of a disillusioned base, while appealing to the center in ways Republicans may feel a little leery of rejecting, given their already deep reputation for obstructionism.
Game on, in other words. Except this isn't a game. And any politician who acts like it is in the next year or so will pay a price.
7.49 pm. This was indeed a speech directed at independents and also at those who fear that America is in terminal decline. It was rooted in patriotism; it was framed to portray Obama as the pragmatic centrist he actually is. And it was not dishonest – these are the choices, short-term and long-term, that we have to make. And we should not be required to wait for another year and a half for action.
One key will be how it's paid for. It seems that Obama is simply insisting that the super-committee should add $450 billion to its remit for long-term spending reductions, including Medicare. I cannot imagine the House GOP agreeing to that. Another key is exactly what infrastructure projects are indeed "shovel-ready" enough to help in the next year or two. But the general idea of building permanent infrastructure as a way to use currently idle labor seems appealingly simple to me – and a classic Depression era maneuver.
7.46 pm. Wow. A threat to take this vision across the country if the GOP doesn't cooperate now. That's Truman-speak. After months of mild attempts to get Republicans to agree, he hasn't caved, and he hasn't demonized them. But he has now upped the ante, and has new fire in his belly. If he can succeed in getting a bulk of the jobs bill through and if the super-committee doesn't fail, we have a chance to turn this economy around.
7.42 pm. Now we get the full-throated defense of government action as part of American history, Republican and Democrat. I think this speech could well turn his own party base around – and frame the coming year on terms more favorable to him than the Republicans.
7.39 pm. The impassioned line to be used against Perry if he's the candidate:
We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top. And I believe that’s a race we can win.
7.34 pm. This is the moment when Obama, rather than the GOP, ups the ante. This is what you might call aggressive conciliation. And here's what I'm also hearing: a very stirring appeal to patriotism, to the idea that America can be far better than we have become today. The repetitive comparison between America and China – the appeal to global competitiveness – is one of the best ripostes to the Big Lie that this president isn't somehow in love with this country.
7.29 pm. My own view is that this blend of short term stimulus balanced by serious long term entitlement reform is so obviously the sanest, smartest way forward it will sink in with most Americans. And complementing it with tax reform to give taxpayers a fair shake is the icing on the cake. What's now clear is that he is betting big in the nest year. This is more aggressive than I have seen him since he got elected. There is a steely impatience here that is obviously designed either to get something done now, or, if not, to run a Truman-style anti-Congress presidential campaign.
7.24 pm. After small businesses, a proposal for veterans. This is a cooptation of Republican erogenous zones with strong government action. It is the message he was elected on. He's bringing red ideas and blue ideas for jobs. And now he's touting more tax cuts – daring the GOP to oppose tax cuts for the middle classes. Brilliant line:
I know some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live. Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away.
He's rocking it.
7.23 pm. A simple message: these are proposals previously backed by Democrats and Republicans. How many times has he now quite sternly said "Pass This Bill"?
7.20 pm. A direct challenge for infrastructure investment – a patriotic challenge. Remember what I said about him staying on the ropes before he comes out swinging? This is not a milque-toast speech or a milque-toast proposal. It's a big bet on the country's desire for action, not debate. And so far, it sounds like something a sane Republican would be happy to support.
7.17 pm. An appeal to pragmatic bipartisanism in the current crisis – effective, and in the details, much more radical than I expected. And the message is even blunter: "You should pass this bill right away." And first off, it's all about tax cuts. Tax cuts. But we haven't quite gotten to the "all of it is paid for" have we?
7.13 pm. A late start. A warm reception. And a poignant admonition to the political and media class about their pettiness and narcissism. An immediate attempt to break through the usual political blah.
He's on tonight.
7.07 pm. A new nugget from the debate last night: Rick Perry physically grabbing Ron Paul and jabbing a pointed finger in his face in a commercial break. A nasty little image for a nasty little man.
6.54 pm. A treat beforehand: Biden and Boehner talking about recent golf games. Yep, they talk about that kind of thing. Biden's expressions were classic, though. There is something about the way he interacts with people that makes me feel at home. I think it's his Catholic Irish character – even when he screws up, even when he can't shut up, even when he's pretty much unbearable. While I'm on this Catholic kick, I should note that culturally speaking, I think Rick Perry is just not going to wear well with white Catholics. The death penalty insouciance and the healthcare callousness will hurt him with that demographic.
I can't say I dislike Boehner either. So far, the Speaker with that wonderful tanned, drinking, smoking face has emerged as personally far more likable than Pelosi.
(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty.)