10.22 pm. The metaphor of the soldier slowly, relentlessly, grindingly putting his life back together was a powerful one for America – and Obama pulled off that analogy with what seemed to me like real passion. One aspect of his personality and his presidency is sometimes overlooked – and that is persistence. He’s been hailed as a hero and dismissed as irrelevant many times. But when you take a step back and assess what he has done – from ending wars to rescuing the economy to cementing a civil rights revolution to shifting the entire landscape on healthcare – you can see why he believes in persistence. Because it works. It may not win every news cycle; but it keeps coming back.
If he persists on healthcare and persists on Iran and persists on grappling, as best we can, with the forces creating such large disparities in wealth, he will look far, far more impressive from the vantage point of history than the news cycle of the Twitterverse sometimes conveys.
This was True Grit Obama. And it was oddly energizing.
10.17 pm. Why the fuck do I have tears in my eyes? Because what our servicemembers have sacrificed must never be forgotten. I saw “Lone Survivor” with Mikey Piro last night. Mikey, as some Dish readers will know (listen to the podcast here) served as a commander in Iraq, and now struggles with and overcomes PTSD each day. I was under my seat most of the movie. It’s a brutal combat picture. Mikey was fine, until the very end as the real-life photos of lost soldiers were displayed. Then he sobbed a little. I’ve heard several presidents invoke military heroism in their speeches. I cannot recall one so moving.
10.12 pm. Another Obama-supporting reader bucks up a bit:
Does Obama’s shift in tone and confidence on the ACA signal that this could be a mid-term issue that Democrats will run on, not from? Did he intentionally let the Republicans endlessly call for repeals without much fanfare, so that Democrats can hoist them by those votes?
Maybe. But the idea that running on universal health insurance is an inevitable loser has always seemed dumb to me. What the Democrats need to do is stay simple: tell the human stories of those finally getting the care they need; capture the emotion and relief; appeal to a common decency. And demand that the GOP offers an alternative. When they do – and a whole lot of it looks a lot like Obamacare – this debate could turn.
10.10 pm. A reader writes:
This speech tonight reminds me why I voted for Obama. I think the GOP made a ghastly strategic error in choosing to stand only for obstruction, and Obama is driving them into the mat on it tonight. He’s clearly channeling the sane middle in the US electorate. The 47 percent of the nation inside the Fox bubble won’t change their minds. But Obama is reminding the majority that voted for him just why they did.
10.04 pm. Obama is now channeling his inner Eisenhower who understood better than any neocon the limits of American force. This is why I supported him in 2008:
We counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.
This is the money quote on Iran:
These negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.
9.56 pm. This is the strongest defense of the ACA I’ve yet seen him give before a large audience. It’s about time. I don’t think he can still achieve what he wants to achieve without strongly making the case for universal healthcare: morally, economically, ethically. Bringing in the Kentucky governor was a nice touch, and goading the Republicans to offer an alternative appeals to Independents. But you get the sense that he knows – and the Republicans know – that large swathes of the bill will never be repealed, and much of it is approved of, when you isolate any actual part of it. It may be that the defensiveness on this may begin to fade.
9.55 pm. Someone’s attention is wandering:
9.51 pm. Yes, the minimum wage is lower than it was under Reagan. In a far tougher time. What I liked about this section, though, was how it spoke of the private sector as leading the way, and demanding that Congress follow. Announcing his own decision to raise the minimum wage of federal contractors also got out of the dynamic that has the president begging Congress to act. He still is. But not so pathetically.
9.48 pm. The speech is gaining momentum. This is powerful on the minimum wage:
Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.
9.46 pm. He’s not giving up on the gender gap either, is he? Money quote:
This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.
9.44 pm. Arne Duncan got some serious mileage this year, didn’t he?
9.40 pm. That letter from Misty DeMars puts the best possible gloss on the duty for government to help those in need. It also put a female face on it – and a mother’s. No accident either that the example of educational achievement was a young Latino man.
9.37 pm. If you are just tuning in to see how this president looks and feels, this performance must surely give the impression of executive energy, and some new, second term confidence. If you thought Obama had been rattled by that tough fifth year, you might be reassessing your assessment. That challenge to the Congress on expired unemployment insurance was strong. There’s passion in him tonight.
9.33 pm. Finally, some necessary, strong, emphatic dismissal of climate change denialism:
“The debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
That’s more like it.
9.29 pm. The theme so far is practical, specific and optimistic. Of course, not much is likely to come of it. But reframing his second term as a renaissance of the American economy is not untrue and breaks out of the rubric that he’s a lame duck going nowhere. But it’s also kind of dry, and listy. But I guess that’s what these always are.
9.27 pm. The tax reform push comes first – another bipartisan nod. This is not the angry go-it-alone populism we were led to expect.
9.25 pm. Money quote: “Here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.” And a nice gracious nod to John Boehner. Classy and powerful. And then Boehner reciprocates. That may be the full extent of the bipartisanship this year, but it was lovely while it lasted.
9.21 pm. Opportunity. Action. All the usual optimistic tropes so as not to be too much of a downer when talking about wage stagnation and economic inequality.
9.18 pm. A crisp, different, upbeat start. I like the way he begins with the people of the United States, and then pivots to asking if the Congress will let them down. A Reaganite beginning with an Obama-style end.
9.16 pm. That was just a boast about getting a poor kid some asthma treatment. Why that rather simple and powerful argument in defense of the ACA is not deployed more often I do not know. I guess the Democrats are too easily intimidated.
9.01 pm. I still get a bit of a thrill seeing an African-American First Lady enter the chamber. Even more of a thrill to see Chuck Hagel. He’s still alive!