When he seemed at a loss, he lapsed into easy, populist applause lines -- almost a parody of partisanship. His campaign speech, dressed up as a State of the Union, seemed irrelevant to the economic experience of our past year.
Even his forays into patriotism ("I do not accept second place for the United States of America") sounded like a return to his rhetoric of the campaign -- irrelevant to our current situation.
His threat to "send back" to Congress any regulatory reform that does not meet his specifications was reminiscent of Clinton's threat -- as he brandished a pen -- to veto any health care reform that didn't seem sufficient. The fact is that Congress isn't about to vote to give him the power to seize any corporation that he deems is "too big to fail" and "potentially insolvent." His threat to veto is irrelevant.
The most attractive of his proposals -- and the one with the greatest potential political payoff -- was his proposal to offer a $10,000-a-year tax credit for college tuition. His accompanying suggestion that student-loan payments be capped at 10 percent of a graduate's income and that the debt be extinguished after 20 years (10 if he or she works in public service) also does him proud.
But even as Obama stumbled in embracing spending as the cure for joblessness, he failed even more in his comments about the War on Terror. Accumulating evidence is leading independents to demand that terror trials be handled by the military, not the civilian, justice system -- and without Miranda warnings.
Getting intelligence about the next attack has a priority over criminal prosecution in the minds of all Americans ... except perhaps those of the attorney general and the president.