In 1960, Fidel Castro addressed the U.N. General Assembly for four-and-a-half hours. President Obama didn't hit that target last night -- it only felt like it. The president had some things to get off his chest -- and if it took 70-plus minutes, well, lucky us, we got to listen.
The speech answered the question that began to form when Republicans took the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey and came into sharp focus after Scott Brown delivered his haymaker Jan. 21: Would Obama pivot like Clinton in 1994 or not? He will not.
This isn't surprising. Obama is a conviction politician. Raised in a left-wing cocoon, he has never given evidence of being anything other than a true-believing left/liberal. Describing his college experience in "The Audacity of Hope," he wrote: "I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets." Sounds like a list of his czars.
So no, President Obama is not going to reassure voters that he has gotten their message. He is not going to tack to the political center. He is not going to acknowledge overreaching on the matter of nationalizing health care. These are moral issues for him. Promoting his health care reform to religious leaders last August, he said, "It is a core ethical and moral obligation that we look after each other. In the wealthiest nation on earth, we are neglecting to live up to that call." We embarrass him.
Though he shot to political stardom as a supposed "post-partisan," he has presided over the most ideologically dogged administration in memory. Bill Clinton might have triangulated to please the electorate. Barack Obama is more inclined to search for villains.
In this, he begins to resemble Jimmy Carter. When the country was reeling from his catastrophic mismanagement, President Carter diagnosed "a crisis of confidence ... a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America." Um, no. The nation's soul and spirit and will were just fine. Carter was the problem.
Last night, endeavoring to explain (to himself?) the peculiar failure of the people to adopt his social democrat agenda, President Obama too, found fault with them:
"Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions -- our corporations, our media, and yes, our government -- still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people's doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away. No wonder there's so much cynicism out there. No wonder there's so much disappointment."
That could be it. Alternatively, people may be dismayed to find that they elected a left-wing ideologue who wasted most of his first year pushing health care reform when something like 17 percent of the nation is unemployed or underemployed; who reads terrorists their Miranda rights and gives them lawyers; who apologizes to the world for America's manifold sins; who increases the national debt by $1.6 trillion in his first year; who elects to try Khalid Sheik Mohammad in Manhattan; who promises transparency and then presides over shameless backroom deals; who clings to cap and trade even in the midst of economic misery; who extends more conciliation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than to Republicans; who has nearly the entire press in his back pocket but nonetheless attempts to punish Fox News; who disdained all Republican proposals as "the failed ideas of the past"; and whose vanity (a presidential podium and teleprompter in a sixth-grade classroom?) is verging on the pathetic.
President Obama has signaled that he will not change course. It's an affront that it took him 70 platitudinous and self-indulgent minutes to say so.