WASHINGTON – FEBRUARY 24: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress February 24, 2009 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
And so it begins. The contrast between Barack Obama last night and George W Bush was striking. Not merely in terms of the content of their speeches, but in their demeanour: whereas Bush seemed a shrunken figure in his final years, dwarfed by the enormity of the challenges of the Presidency and by the scale of his own blunders, Obama, armed with the confidence of victory and unburdened by the oppressive turn of events, seemed to fit his surroundings more comfortably than his predecessor ever managed – save for those first few months after 9/11.
Remember how Bush told the world that, having secured re-election, he knew he had political capital and he sure as hell wasn’t going to waste it? Bush was right to think that political capital depreciates just like any other banking stock these days even if, in the end, his second term would prove a disappointment and, in many ways, a squandered opportunity. Obama, whatever one may think of his policy agenda, is determined not to make the same mistake.
Hence this ambitious, liberal speech. It was a speech that would have been too bold for Clinton and too grand for Carter. Obama is the heir to LBJ American liberals have been waiting for. Anyone who feared that the present economic turmoil would be used to justify any number of government initiatives – in the name of Not Doing Nothing – had those suspicions confirmed last night. The era of Big Government (by American standards) is back.
But it’s back with a poise and a coolness and a demeanour that, allied with the present uncertainty, make it a much more palatable proposition than at any time since the Great Society itself.