The common theme of both speeches was that Americans can pull themselves out of this rut better than government, though government can help. Obama knows the country is tired of the partisan bickering that helps no one and that is why in saluting our common patriotism, he said, "I ... know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. This is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground."
Jindal seemed to reciprocate this sentiment when he said, "Here in my state of Louisiana, we don't care what party you belong to, if you have good ideas to make life better for our people. We need more of that attitude from both Democrats and Republicans in our nation's capital."
It is a noble sentiment, but old ways die hard as demonstrated by the silly popping up and down by members of Congress during Obama's speech and the knowing winks and one-upmanship practiced by the applauding factions. These people looked like children trying to emulate the bumper sticker, "My Kid Can Beat Up Your Honor Student."
Don't look for many Democrats to become converts to fiscal restraint now that they have the power to do whatever they want. The question is whether Republicans can demonstrate the superiority of their ideas at a time when the public memory of the party failing to live up to its principles is still fresh.
As Gov. Jindal noted, "You elected Republicans to champion limited government, fiscal discipline, and personal responsibility. Instead, Republicans went along with earmarks and big government spending in Washington."
Repentance can lead to quick forgiveness in Jindal's Catholic Church, but in politics absolution does not come as easily. The key for Obama is whether he can appear to be more of a Republican in some areas than Republicans, who have behaved like Democrats. So far, Obama has the upper hand, but the economic crisis, what happens when troops begin withdrawing from Iraq and where the terrorist suspects go and what they do after Guantanamo closes will determine his political future. If any of these go badly, his speaking skills will not save him. On these issues, at least, we stand or fall together.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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