Delivering an important speech at a critically important time, Barack Obama relaunched his presidency late Tuesday with a post-State of the Union, pre-budget address that met the American crisis of confidence head-on.
President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress -- and, more importantly, to a worried American public -- was part pep talk, part stump speech, part vision for the American future. It was a needed speech, expertly delivered. Whether or not it rallies the nation, it was a demonstration of the power of a president at the peak of his popularity -- and a strong call to accountability for the members of Congress.
Obama combined realistically grim assessments of the state of the economy -- an economy that has lost nearly 3.6 million jobs so far in this recession, and seen the stock market fall to almost half its pre-recession value -- with a strong and confident call for change that will return the nation to a course toward long-term prosperity. "So much debt, so little confidence," he said. And while he was long on rhetoric and short on details, he did call for help for small businesses and entrepreneurs, a reform of the financial regulatory system, renewable energy legislation and education improvements -- and promised a budget that will halve the deficit by the end of this presidential term, mostly by curtailing war spending.
The themes of energy, health care and education are common ones, and got attention in this speech with promises of emphasis and funding. But Obama also demanded a start on reforms of such programs as Medicare and Social Security, and that will be a key to any long-range plans. He will find it difficult, inevitably, to deliver increased spending on new or expanded programs without worsening what already is looming as an "entitlement" crisis in federal finances.
"Everyone in this chamber, Democrats and Republicans, will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars," he said. "And that includes me."
But five weeks into his presidency, even his political victory in the effort to pass a $787 billion stimulus package came despite a failure to win the bipartisan support he craves. The future will be no easier. The president delivered a strong speech Tuesday that sounded the right tone of confidence and strength -- but the road ahead, through a still-deepening recession and a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Israel, remains difficult indeed.