Obama is lucky because he got this message in one senatorial race, not in a rehashed Republican Revolution. In 1994, Clinton didn’t have any warning of what might be on the horizon. Obama has seen the storm clouds brewing. That’s why his State of the Union address last night took on a very different tone.
Barack Obama got lucky.
Unlike 1994, the fire alarm went off before the Democrats’ house burned down.
Bill Clinton gave his second State of the Union speech 16 years ago. At the time, there were very few signs that the American electorate had become disenchanted with the smooth southerner who had been in office a little over a year.
Clinton was still pounding the pulpit pledging to provide the promises of his presidential platform.
“Though we are making a difference, our work has just begun. Many Americans still haven't felt the impact of what we've done. The recovery still hasn't touched every community or created enough jobs,” Clinton said. “And so tonight, let us resolve to continue the journey of renewal; to create more and better jobs; to guarantee health security for all; to reward work over welfare; to promote Democracy abroad; and to begin to reclaim our streets from violent crime and drugs and gangs; to renew our own American community.”
In that 1994 address, Clinton told the joint session of Congress, “In today's health care system, insurance companies call the shots. They pick whom they cover and how they cover them. They can cut off your benefits when you need your coverage the most. They are in charge. If we just let the health care system continue to drift, our country will have people with less care, fewer choices and higher bills.”
That was strikingly similar to the Obama administration’s 2009 message. Because of many factors, that position is still unpopular with voters 16 years later.
Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts has been called a game changer. I think it was – but not for the obvious reason of removing the 60-seat super-majority for Democrats.
His election gave Obama real evidence that his policy reach was greater than the voters’ grasp.
Obama is lucky because he got this message in one senatorial race, not in a rehashed Republican Revolution. In 1994, Clinton didn’t have any warning of what might be on the horizon. Obama has seen the storm clouds brewing.
That’s why his State of the Union address last night took on a very different tone.
“Jobs must be our No. 1 focus in 2010, and that is why I’m calling for a new jobs bill tonight,” Obama said. “People are out of work. They’re hurting. I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.”
Obama recognized that no bill would make up for the 7 million jobs that have been lost in the last two years. He proposed a long-term plan for economic growth.
“I do not accept second place for the United States of America,” he said, imploring Congress to get serious about fixing problems hampering the economy that is falling behind China, India and Germany in investments in education, environmental jobs and clean energy.
Jobs, the economy, clean energy, education, environmental responsibility and a stronger exporting initiative all dominated the address.
Health care – the issue that sparked the Tea Party fires and rallied Brown to a Republican upset in Massachusetts – didn’t even escape Obama’s lips until 3,300 words into a 7,200 word speech.
He took a very collegial tone when he addressed the hottest of hot button issues.
“Now let's clear a few things up -- I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics,” Obama said to a loud chorus of laughter.
He asked Congress to take another look at the plan and offered a challenge.
“If anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know … let me know … let me know,” he said with emphasis. “Here's what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. Let’s get it done.”
Obama shifted gears to challenge the status quo in Washington, D.C.
“What frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent -- a belief that if you lose, I win,” he said. “I will not give up on trying to change the tone of our politics.”
He also reaffirmed his commitment to end the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity,” he said. “But make no mistake: This war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”
In conclusion, Obama restated his belief that the worst is behind us.
“The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people,” Obama said. “We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don't quit. I don't quit. Let's seize this moment -- to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.”
In 10 months, we will know if the president’s change in course -- and discourse -- was enough to prevent a second Republican Revolution. The people have spoken, and the president got the message.
His annual address demonstrated that the real strength in our republic is the ability to affect change one vote at a time.
Kent Bush is publisher of the Augusta Gazette in Augusta, Kan. Contact him at email@example.com.