Morning in Obama's America

The president sounds like Reagan. His opponents have a bad case of malaise

Robert Shrum

State of the Union addresses are often a wash; the one Obama delivered this week was a watershed. The evening produced two visions, one hopeful, the other infused with fear; one delivered from high ground, the other emerging from a low bog of grievance, gloom, and doom. The events of the coming months and the direction of the 2012 campaign will be shaped by the terrain that each camp has claimed.

In his speech, the President, who for his first two years was the great legislator, was, as he had been in 2008 and again in Tucson, the great communicator. He articulated a powerful narrative, rooted in America's instinctive view of itself as a nation and a people who "do big things." The call to "win the future" was aspirational and challenging, an appeal beyond partisanship that echoed JFK and Ronald Reagan. The Kennedy comparisons were inevitable; but there was also a striking parallel with Reagan's summons in his first inaugural to "believe in ourselves and in our capacity to perform great deeds... And, after all, why shouldn't we believe that? We are Americans."

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Robert Shrum has been a senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party. In addition to being the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, Shrum has advised thirty winning U.S. Senate campaigns; eight winning campaigns for governor; mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities; and the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Shrum's writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and other publications. The author of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (Simon and Schuster), he is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.