Wednesday, February 25, 2009

He Gets It

I voted for Barack Obama in November. I thought he was more likely than John McCain to get us out the myriad of problems he would assume after the Bush Administration left the country looking like one of Aerosmith’s hotel rooms. I didn’t suffer from the inflated expectations of his true believers, either. He’s a politician, and no politician rises to his level without having a certain quality of ruthless pragmatism in him. No Kool-Aid for me.

With that in mind, I can safely say last night’s address to Congress was probably the best political speech I have ever seen. The tone was dead on: he didn’t minimize the problems, but neither did he wring his hands about them. Bankers took their lumps, but no one got away clean, which is as it should be; we all bear some responsibility for this mess. He didn’t call out Republicans by name, but made it clear he inherited this mess, and we all know who left it for him.

What I liked best was his willingness to make it clear he wasn’t pussyfooting around. Things are going to be expected of people, from politicians to bankers to you and me. Responsibilities are going to have to be met. Pet programs are going to have to be abandoned.

The time for reckoning came long ago; now we finally have someone who appears to be willing to take some heat to do something about it. He also framed the discussion of why his key programs must be met. Our inability to control the costs of health care not only leaves too many people outside the safety net, but it places too great a burden on American business. It’s no longer a feel-good liberal “entitlement” to preach for universal health care; it’s good business sense. Energy independence is a national security issue, like it or not. Placing unpleasant expenses—like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—off the budget to artificially hold down the official deficits was the tawdriest type of sleight of hand, demeaning those who perpetrated it as well as those who accepted it. It’s way past time that stopped.

Will he accomplish everything he set out last night? Certainly not. Political realities will combine with unforeseen events to require sights to be reset. That being said, if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? For the first time in a long time, this country has a leader who knows where he wants us to go, and it’s a better place than where we are now.

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