After weeks of "talking down" the economy and concern among some of his supporters that his sobering prognosis for the nation's recovery might be affecting America's natural optimism, President Obama delivered a speech to Congress on Tuesday, parts of which sounded as if they could have been written by a Republican.
"We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before," said the president to applause from members of both parties.
There were a number of contrasts, even contradictions, in Obama's address. The president claims he will halve the deficit, while substantially adding to it. He will improve schools, but opposes the voucher program. He will begin pulling most U.S. combat troops out of Iraq, but send 17,000 more to Afghanistan. He will "eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs," most of which were initiated by Congress and have constituencies who will be angry when these programs are cut.
In perhaps the biggest contrast of all -- bordering on subterfuge -- the president claimed the budget he presents to Congress this week is "free of earmarks." Well, if earmarks are absent from the budget, they are abundant in the $410 billion omnibus package that will be voted on separately, a bill that contains an estimated 9,000 earmarks. These include, as noted by Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, who gave the GOP response to Obama's address, "$300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a 'magnetic levitation' line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called volcano monitoring." And according to Tom Jones, a staffer of Sen. Jim DeMint's who is going over the bill line by line and posting his pork findings on Twitter, $400,000 has been set aside to "combat bullying" and another $200,000 for tattoo removal, as part of a campaign to prevent violence.
There were many good lines in Jindal's speech, but he suffered the usual disadvantage of the opposition. He had no audience popping up like targets in a lively game of Whac-A-Mole to applaud him, and his delivery lacked the passion and personality that are Obama's supreme gifts.
Republicans have a lot to overcome, given their failure to live up to their self-professed standards. Obama has come to the presidency when the public is fearful about losing jobs, retirement savings and health insurance. It wants a nanny and Obama looks an awful lot like Mary Poppins.