By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Thoughts on the state of Obama

Long after the forgettable rhetoric of the State of the Union address has been duly forgotten, voters may remember two things: a combative, self-confident president and a sour, negative opposition party. If President Obama is to stage a political comeback, it may well have begun last night.

Or so I argue in the Guardian.


Howard Zinn, 1922-2010


An Indian casino for Fall River?


  1. Harrybosch

    I was heartened by this profile in this morning’s New York Times of a couple who sound like they have every reason to be angry, yet still hold out hope.

    I suspect that these folks, and many more like them, are a silent majority, and further suspect there are far more of them than there are idiot tea partiers.

  2. mike_b1

    If you had a 20% approval rating, you’d be sour and nagative too.

  3. admitted skeptic

    In his speech last night the President was basically apologizing for not speaking slow enough last year during his multitude of speeches and interviews so that we the people (particularly us in Massachusetts) could understand that the health care bills, stimulus, etc. were great ideas.

    When all of his staff was reviewing this speech, do you think anyone mentioned that it might come off as a little arrogant?

  4. Patricia

    Y’know, last night was this big and constitutionally mandated speech by the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States. And then this morning I get to the subway station and I am handed this copy of the Washington Examiner with huge screaming headlines: “A new face for the GOP: Va. governor answers Obama on national TV.” McDonnell’s been governor of a medium-sized state for, what, two weeks now?

    And then people have the gall to say that every single corner of the “MSM” is “liberal”? I don’t THINK so. *grrr*

  5. Dunque

    Skeptic – I’ll second your emotion. That “we didn’t explain it well enough” argument has been echoing and growing. In our own state Niki Tsongas raised it election night. John Tierney apparently spoke about it recently on the North Shore.

    And now the President has repeated the call.

    You would think that supposedly smart people might actually realize there are other people that are smart besides them who 1) recognize the worst of backscratching/log-rolling/behind closed door dealings 2) don’t share the same political philosophy as them.

    No, that can’t be! It’s that we didn’t craft our message well enough!

    Arrogance = tin ears.

  6. Joey

    Let me go a little further into the weeds on the healthcare debate…

    Like many well-educated professionals, I could create my own job as a self-employed person tomorrow– *if I had a way to get affordable healthcare.* But I don’t have one. The prospect of paying $750 or more per month (and that’s just for myself, in the prime of health, never mind when I’m in my 50s with a family) keeps me from creating new jobs. So I immediately see why solving healthcare is fundamental to our long-term economic prosperity.

    But the unemployed blue-collar worker can’t start his own business tomorrow; you can’t be a self-employed autoworker, or chicken-plant processor, or whatever. Your fundamental problem is simply how to make ends meet, before healthcare even enters your head. So you immediately see that job creation is what must come first.

    I don’t know how to bridge the two sides here, since ultimately the professional worker who starts his own business *would* provide more jobs as he thrived, but the blue-collar worker has the political position in our country to keep thwarting that. But that’s where the sticking point is.

  7. Treg

    So, guys, what are saying? Health care reform and the stimulus *weren’t* good ideas? Really?

  8. Ggood

    I’d like to think that the defeat on HCR will bring Obama back to reality: You don’t sit down to eat a six course meal in one bite.

    You don’t do financial reform, you limit the size and activities of banks.
    You don’t do health care reform, you eliminate pre-existing conditions restrictions.
    You don’t generate jobs, you stimulate manufacturing.

    George Bush got us teacher accountability and presciption drug coverage despite the fact that teachers and drug companies hated the ideas (respectively). He wasn’t the smartest president we’ve ever had, but he was smart enough to make small strides toward resolving important issues.

    With Obama, I fear his reach will continue to exceed his grasp. Hopefully I’ll be wrong about that.

  9. Dan Hamilton

    Here’s what I posted on Facebook, with a link to The Guardian:

    As he does so often, Dan Kennedy took the words – pro & con – right out of my mouth, only he arranged them more artfully [g].


  10. Ben

    I was more struck by what was news (at least to me) – that Obama still intends to pursue health care and cap-and-trade. If he was serious about a budget freeze, he would abandon these costly plans and begin a budget purge with the $500+ billion in stimulus yet to be spent.

    Obama wants to carry-over the profligate fiscal policy of the last decade into the next. Since the Federal Reserve is equally clueless, I don’t think the future prospects for our economy look so hot.

    Harrybosch: There have been polls showing the Tea Party Movement to be more popular than either major party.

  11. Tom G

    “If President Obama is to stage a political comeback, it may well have begun last night”

    A lukewarm assertion, “it may well have begun last night”, hung on a conditional framework “If President Obama is to stage a political comeback”

    He’s polls are at about 50% which is pretty good so “political” comeback isn’t my biggest concern. Getting a decent result out of the Senate is the bigger concern IMO.

  12. Dunque

    I’ve watched many of these things over the years. I can’t ever recall hearing a President so directly criticize a Supreme Court decision. Even Presidents opposed to abortion have, I think, discussed the laws they want to pass to limit and control abortion and not directly attacked the edition of the Court that produced Roe v. Wade.

    Everyone is talking about Justice Alito’s obvious reaction to that point in the speech but I think what we should be talking about is the impropriety of the President’s attack on the decision of the sitting court in the first place. Between the legislative and executive bodies there is a natural tension and ebb/flow but the Supreme Court is designated as the arbiter of interpretation of those laws the two entities collectively produce and sign.

    To so directly attack their decision is, in my mind, a needless, populist politicization of perhaps the most difficult and sensitive role in our government institutions.

  13. lkcape

    Interesting. Now there is an admission that there is a need for a political comeback.

    A few short months ago, all was peaches and cream.

    What a difference a few serious missteps can make.

    I get the feeling that this liberal group is capable of snatching a stunning defeat from the jaws of just an embarrassing defeat.

    Much of what is now being proposed is going nowhere, just like most proposals made during State of the Union addresses.

  14. O-FISH-L

    Twofer: Obama calling for earmark reform and Nancy Pelosi jumping up to applaud it. Ha! They must think the 2008 voters are still asleep.

    I hope Denis Leary has these two signed up for the comedy event in Boston that benefits the Neely House each year. I’d love to see this act in person, for charity!

    The opposition party was sour, Dan? Must be something new. After all, then Sen. Hilary Clinton set the standard for cheerful enthusiasm by the opposition at the SOTUs during the Bush years.

  15. Dunque

    Good call, Fish. I still vividly recall when President Bush remarked on the defeat of Social Security reform Senator Clinton was the first to jump to her feet with a broad smile on her face.

    And for those of you thinking about responding with “What good have stock market investments been lately?” you are totally missing the actuarial point.

  16. Steve Stein

    Steve Singister, a poster on DailyKos, has an interesting idea here – see if there is any movement on the “enthusiasm gap” between Ds and Rs as measured by this poll question:

    QUESTION: In the 2010 Congressional elections will you definitely vote, probably vote, not likely vote, or definitely will not vote?

    Before the SOTU, here’s what it showed:

    (% of voters def or prob vote/% of voters not likely or def not vote)

    Republicans: 82/17
    Democrats: 54/43

  17. mike_b1

    Presidents throughout US history have “attacked” SCOTUS decisions, so there’s nothing novel there. We call it part of the checks and balances that the Constitution is based on. It’s just unusual to have someone in the WH is qualified to make those criticisms. By contrast, GOP hero GW prided himself on not knowing who the SCOTUS members were. Or even that we have one.

  18. lkcape

    Note the missing independent voter.

    Inasmuch as the independent vote is significant and is currently leaning actively to the right, this is not a good set of numbers for the Democrats/liberals. (See independent voter trends in the recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts.)

    Nine months may not be sufficient time to reverse the trend…especially in light of the ho-hum reaction to Obama’s latest speech of his political life.

    Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid on pogo sticks don’t help the Democratic cause.

  19. Treg

    Again, just for the record: Who here actually thinks health care reform isn’t vitally important, for both moral (30 million uninsured Americans) and practical (pay now, or pay later) reasons?

    And who here is saying the stimulus wasn’t a good thing?

  20. O-FISH-L

    @mike_b1: “Presidents throughout US history have “attacked” SCOTUS decisions, so there’s nothing novel there. We call it…”

    We call it? Which president are you? Carter?

  21. mike_b1

    Easy O-Fish. You’re getting loopy again.

  22. Dan Storms

    “begin a budget purge with the $500+ billion in stimulus yet to be spent. ” Or hey, how about the nearly $850b spent on military and national security budgets. I’m sure in a “defense” budget (did it all start to go downhill military-industrial complex-wise when we renamed the Department of War?) that is 6 times that of our nearest potential rival (China) and is in fact larger than all or most of the rest of the world combined there might be more than a little waste, fraud and abuse. Maybe if we decided to not start so many wars (let see, since I was born in ’54, there’s been the Cold War, ‘Nam, Granada, Panama, Kosovo, Somalia, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan, plus the military strikes in Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan) we wouldn’t need quite so many guns. And if, in the name of security, we didn’t support so many thugs like in Angola, Congo, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Phillippines–I’m too tired to go on–and didn’t feel the need to spy on ourselves and everyone else, maintain torture chambers around the world, and indefinitely imprison without charge people we acknowledge aren’t terrorists, then maybe we’d have a few simoleons laying around to pay down the debt, provide at least minimal health care to every citizen, maybe cut payroll taxes so employers won’t feel the need to ship every other job off to China (yeah, like corporations would do that).

  23. Steve Stein

    lkcape – this particular question measures partisan “enthusiasm”, thus does not take into account independents, who are presumably amenable to voting for either party.

    Other questions in the poll assess independents.

  24. lkcape

    Mr. Stein, the assessment of the risk to the Democratic party remains, does it not, whether or not the Independent voter is included?

    As it appears that you have re-engaged your selective memory, let me again point out: The independents in liberal Massachusetts did not vote for the Democratic candidate in filling the Edward M. Kennedy Memorial Senate Seat in sufficient numbers to stave off a landslide.

  25. Ben

    Dan Storms: I agree! I’m assuming you noticed that Obama exempted defense spending from the budget “freeze”. He also chose to increase rather than draw-down our commitment in Afghanistan. We have just as many troops in combat today as we did with Bush. I was hoping for some change, but instead we just get another “Guns and Butter” Presidency. Meanwhile, all Americans want is to get back to work.

  26. Tom G

    a snap poll conducted by CBS News is any indication, the speech played well with the public: 83% approved, just two points below the mark George Bush reached in his post-9/11 state of the union.

    Obama accomplished the same approval rating for his state of the union address as George Bush after 9/11… and Obama accomplished it without 3000 people dying.

  27. Dot

    “Everyone is talking about Justice Alito’s obvious reaction to that point in the speech but I think what we should be talking about is the impropriety of the President’s attack on the decision of the sitting court in the first place.”

    And since Alito did make his childish face, we can guess he was offended, and therefore we can all be offended, rather than being aggrieved by proxy. Alito hasn’t come out and said that he was offended by the statement, however, so my assumption might be incorrect. The face he made might be from trying to swallow the foot he put in his mouth with the campaign finance decision. but really, ff you keep rushing in to protect the Supreme Court, how are they going to learn to fend for themselves? Stop treating the Supreme Court justices like hothouse flowers.

  28. mike_b1

    Dunque: Surely you jest. Try Googling FDR and Supreme Court.

    Christ, why do I even bother…

  29. Dunque

    Mike_b1 – I’m well familiar w/FDR’s attacks on the court. It’s referenced in the article I linked to which you clearly didn’t “bother” to read.

    Since you didn’t bother to read it I will point out to you that the writer cites FDR’s attacks as one of only 3 in history on the court during a State of the Union address. The other two belong to Warren Gamaliel Harding and Ronald Reagan. Again, just recapping because you couldn’t “bother.”

    So clearly it’s a rare event.

    Dot – Alito won’t come out and state whether or not he was offended because custom and his role dictate that he can’t. Let me point out – it’s not about the decision and whether or not you agree with it. It’s the propriety of a populist attack on a sitting court in the State of the Union.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Dunque: I read what you linked to, and I thought it was hilarious. Gosh, Obama made the same mistake as FDR, the greatest president of the 20th century, and Ronald Reagan, the most significant political figure of the past 50 years. It didn’t work out well for either of them, but it puts Obama in pretty good company. It certainly puts the lie to the notion that what he did was unprecedented.

  30. Steve Stein

    lkcape – what’s your point? You seem to be arguing with the voices in your head. Your comments don’t have anything to do with anything I said.

  31. Treg

    Guys, I’d think by now we’d all know the rule – IGNORE the TROLLS.

  32. mike_b1

    Treg, you are right, of course.

    Dunque, that article didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of Presidential-SC dustups. Or are you too young to remember Tricky Dick Nixon? And it gives short-shrift to FDR’s planned approach: to drown out the naysayers by enlarging the Court. Methinks they need a new “expert.”

  33. Dunque

    3 times in a century is not exactly frequent, Dan. Is court packing or school prayer “pretty good company” in your opinion?

    In the context of the State of the Union it was absolutely unprecedented. And the fact that President Obama inserted “With all due deference” (which everyone knows that is a signal that lack of deference is coming your way) and veered off the written speech shows he knew it was questionable form.

  34. Dunque

    Treg says “Guys, I’d think by now we’d all know the rule – IGNORE the TROLLS.”

    Media Nation – Home of the Free Speech Stalwarts.

  35. mike_b1

    Uh, Dunque, try looking up Tricky Dick’s attacks on the SCOTUS. He was all over the Warren Court. Moreover, he got personal. Here’s Richard Nixon at his best:
    – Potter Stewart: “A weak bastard”
    – Thurgood Marshall: “An old fool and a black fool”
    – William Brennan: “A jackass Catholic”
    – Hugo Black: “A senile old bastard”
    – William Rehnquist: “That clown Renchburg”

    Not to mention, it’s not “three times in a century.” There have been 18 presidents in the past 100 years, so it’s more accurate to say “three of the past 18 presidents.” And even that would not be true.

    Going farther back, Abe Lincoln threatened to have then Chief Justice Roger Taney arrested.

    There is nothing new here. And thank goodness. The SC is neither infallible nor above criticism. Welcome to America.

  36. Harrybosch

    Lots of folks in here getting aggrieved by proxy.


    I thought there was nothing wrong with what Obama said.

    And I thought too there was nothing wrong with Alito’s response.

    I call what happened vibrant democracy.

    But for what it’s worth, Politifact agrees with Alito, mostly, in terms of the veracity of what Obama was claiming.

  37. Dunque

    Uh, Mike_b1, if you can point me to the State of the Union address where President Nixon called Thurgood Marshall “an old fool and a black fool” I’ll concede you are correct.

    Otherwise I’ll conclude you weren’t following my point.

  38. While I never liked the man and didn’t vote for him, I don’t know if it was much, if at all, the start of a comeback. He seems like a whiny, arrogant snot, who blamed just about everyone but himself for the last disaster of a year. I have no faith at all in him fixing anything or the future, for that matter.

  39. mike_b1

    Dunque, if you think that the State of the Union address is somehow reserved for the statements that count, and everything else is less and/or insignificant, you are even a bigger fool than you have previously let on.

    Most SOTUA are utterly forgettable. The greatest speeches by the greatest presidents have come almost when least expected. The Gettysburg Address; FDR’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”; JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner; Reagan’s “We begin bombing [Russia] in five minutes”; Nixon’s “I am not a crook”; … well, you get the picture (Republicans not named Lincoln tend not to give compelling speeches).

  40. Harrybosch

    “(Republicans not named Lincoln tend not to give compelling speeches).”

    Geez. “Tear down this wall” comes immediately to mind.

    And something about a military-industrial complex.

    A mere two seconds thought revealed those. I could certainly go on.

    You wanna be taken seriously, you can’t be so partisan.

  41. mike_b1

    Geez, was that speech given during the SotU address?

    You want to be taken seriously, you need to read the entire thread.

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