The first Obama of spring

So, let’s see, what kind of a day was Tuesday, February 24 in Washington? It was cold but dry. Blustery. And beyond that…well, the chairman of the Fed said that recovery from the economic crisis was in sight and should begin early in 2010. And then the president reiterated that message in a very nearly ...

588233_090225_sotu5.jpg
588233_090225_sotu5.jpg

So, let's see, what kind of a day was Tuesday, February 24 in Washington? It was cold but dry. Blustery. And beyond that...well, the chairman of the Fed said that recovery from the economic crisis was in sight and should begin early in 2010. And then the president reiterated that message in a very nearly pitch perfect speech to a joint session of Congress that clearly outlined a path to recovery built around truly transformational energy, healthcare and education agendas.

He focused on investing in the engines of innovation in the U.S. economy and on responsibility and fiscal soundness with the kind of balance and clarity that has eluded other senior members of his team. And to top it off, the White House indicated that the president would soon announce a plan that would have U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by August 2010 and out of the country altogether by the end of 2011.

Not a bad day.

So, let’s see, what kind of a day was Tuesday, February 24 in Washington? It was cold but dry. Blustery. And beyond that…well, the chairman of the Fed said that recovery from the economic crisis was in sight and should begin early in 2010. And then the president reiterated that message in a very nearly pitch perfect speech to a joint session of Congress that clearly outlined a path to recovery built around truly transformational energy, healthcare and education agendas.

He focused on investing in the engines of innovation in the U.S. economy and on responsibility and fiscal soundness with the kind of balance and clarity that has eluded other senior members of his team. And to top it off, the White House indicated that the president would soon announce a plan that would have U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by August 2010 and out of the country altogether by the end of 2011.

Not a bad day.

Now, I’m not a big fan of the stimulus and I think the decision to shift a lot of our national security chips into Afghanistan will ultimately prove a source of potentially tragic frustration for the United States. I think the financial rescue was bobbled, that the tone of the President’s recent speeches on the economy has been too negative and I thought Monday’s fiscal responsibility tea-party was staged and not a little cynical. But Obama was excellent last night and his speech was just what the doctor ordered. He offered vision and leadership and he touched all the key points on the economic and the foreign policy side.

You can say “oh, but it’s just a speech and he’s good at speeches” and you can cavil with details, but last night you had the fulfillment of a promise made on election day. America can be different. The President can lead with grace and intelligence and a seemingly sincere effort toward bi-partisanship. We can break with the fear-mongering and the cruelty and the blundering of the Bush years and get back to trying to tap into what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Whether this is a watershed, a new president starting to hit his stride, or it was just a momentary high water mark, it is so different in every respect from the dross of George W. Bush and the gradual descent into ickiness of Bill Clinton that it is worth savoring. Not just a little. A lot. And, even in deeply troubling, trying times, it is enough to conjure genuine hope, the first true optimism after a seemingly interminable winter of discontents.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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