We got mixed signals from a turbulent political week.
Barack Obama seems to be enjoying an uptick in polls -- up toward, but not quite at, 50 percent approval. It's a reminder that he can expect to benefit from Americans' desire to think well of their presidents and from the reluctance of many voters to be seen as rejecting the first black president.
But his weakness was apparent in his State of the Union address: issues. He devoted a mere 44 words to the health care law passed in March 2010. This is the strongest evidence possible that his signal legislative achievement is a millstone around the neck of his campaign.
Similarly, we heard little in the hour-plus speech about infrastructure. The words "shovel-ready projects" and "high-speed rail" appeared nowhere -- significant omissions from a president who (as a mischievous Republican ad shows) sprinkles the same phrases in one State of the Union after another.
And there was a third omission, not perhaps as obvious but, in the long run, possibly more glaring -- the omission of any serious public policy initiatives to quicken the pace of economic growth and address the long-term entitlement problems that Obama has occasionally noted.
Yes, he did call for higher taxes on high earners. But the man who can call on experts at the Treasury Department to draft legislation gave no indication that he has any feasible draft for his "Buffett rule," which would presumably require a second alternative minimum tax for very high earners.
Nor did he indicate that he has made any serious effort to come up with language to penalize corporations that "ship jobs overseas." Once again, a president hailed for his brilliance has handed off the grimy task of writing legislation entirely to Congress.
What we saw Tuesday night was more like a candidate than an incumbent president.
Not that any of the Republican candidates yet look like a plausible incumbent. Polls show that their nomination battle is lowering poll ratings of the leading contenders, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. The eventual nominee may be able to repair that, though he won't get a pass from the mainstream media on his weaknesses, as Barack Obama did on Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.