It does help, after these frenzied few weeks. I think my reaction to the SOTU reflects a skewed perspective – much different than most people tuning in, who were the speech's core audience. A big part of the speech was reminding Americans of the facts about Obama's record – as opposed to the massive lies and distortions we keep hearing in the GOP debates. That's new to many; and it's impressive. But since I wrote that argument and have been defending it for more than a week, I didn't hear that part, or heard it and dismissed it as old news. It may be old news to me, but it isn't old news to most Americans. So I was focused on policy specifics, which were indeed underwhelming, as others have noted, with a few possible exceptions (the task force targeting Wall Street corruption; the mass mortgage refi proposal).
And the focus entirely on getting the wealthy and successful pay more – outside the context of comprehensive tax reform – rubs me the wrong way. It puts Obama in the position of liberal crusader against the wealthy, rather than centrist reformer of the system. Yes, I know he can't reform the system with this GOP. But since they favor tax reform, that proposal would have put them on the spot. By all means, make it revenue-neutral and then in a second term raise the rates a little, if revenue continues to be a problem. I just think Obama needs a big centrist cause in the campaign as well as a few big liberal ones.
But we have entered a purely political season. And Obama is being purely political here – in a way he pledged not to be in 2008. It may be a master-stroke – since he sure has painted the GOP into a corner on fairness, and his arguments here have broad traction. And if he destroys the GOP this year – and he probably will if Gingrich is the nominee – then it may all come together. But it will mean a much more liberal Obama, which is why this centrist supporter gets a little queasy.
Still, the GOP asked for it. By denying him any cooperation, they have ceded policy to him. And if he wins, they will be on the ropes for a while. And that's how Obama could truly become the liberal Reagan I spotted in 2007. Because he will not only shift the landscape toward more government intervention, he will have reformed the opposition party to reflect that change.
And who should really get a big part of the credit for turning America to the left? The Republicans who made Obama more liberal than he ever wanted to be. Congrats, guys. You may really be making history.
(Photo: Bill O'Leary/WaPo/Getty.)