Thursday, January 27, 2011

Taking the high road

Barack Obama did something very clever on Tuesday night during his State of the Union speech.

He grabbed the high road.

Obama talked a lot about the future in his speech, and he did it in optimistic tones. The President laid out his map for keeping America as an economic power as we rebound from the worst fiscal crisis since 1929.

A pep talk is always welcome, but this has the added advantage of improving his chances of reelection in 2012.

One of the best pieces of political wisdom about Presidential campaigns I've ever read is that the most optimistic candidate usually wins. There are exceptions, but for the most part sunshine usually beats gloom and doom. Obama ran on change we can believe in during the 2008 campaign, while John McCain sometimes acted as if he were trying out for a remake of "Grumpy Old Men." (Note: The "old" McCain reappeared after the election, relaxed and funny, albeit it too late to help himself.)

Bob Dole never seemed to happy when he was running in 1996. In 1992, all George Bush could do was talk about Bill Clinton's character -- instead of running on his record of achievements, which is much more impressive in hindsight than it seemed at the time. And then there's the best example -- Ronald Reagan, with his morning again in America line, selling better days in vivid contrast to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.

Obama's supporters often point out that the new President in 2009 inherited a great many problems, including a huge financial crisis. Obama and his team worked with George Bush's team in 2008 and then took over in 2009, and -- in hindsight -- things could have been a lot worse. The banks didn't melt down; indeed much of the TARP money has been repaid with interest. The American auto industry has been given a second chance.

We came out of that as consumers a little scared, which usually translates to keeping money in the piggy bank and under the mattress. But there are signs of better economic times ahead -- stock market rising, corporate profits up -- so a pep talk about better times wasn't a bad idea at all.

Contrast that to the Republican responses. Paul Ryan had a lot of gloom and doom in his speech, implying that we may not be able to reclaim our glories as a nation over the past century unless we take severe measures now. While certainly we have to get serious about cutting the deficit -- and we'll see if either party has the political will to do that after showing a tendency to sprint away from such decisions -- Ryan's message sure wasn't "feel good."

And then there's Michele Bachmann, who became well-known in 2008 for saying members of Congress who have "anti-American views," whatever that means, should be investigated. Bachmann gave a State of the Union response to the Tea Party crowd, repeating some of the usual conservative talking points (note: If the stimulus package lowered the unemployment rate by two or three points, did it really fail?) and then giving an alternative view of colonial history that made Sarah Palin look scholarly. Bachmann has been visiting Iowa this winter, a sign of the Presidential itch that can only lead to more opportunities for her revisionist history.

I have figured Obama would rank as the favorite in 2012, mostly because he has a base of supporters who are loyal and will turn out at the polls when his name is on top of the ballot. Those same people didn't show up in 2010, but they haven't gone anywhere.

But after this week, Obama's chances of reelection just got better.

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