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Smart people react to Obama speech. II

Joel Goldstein of St. Louis University is a keen observer of matters presidential. Here's his take on the speech:

"First, the positive reaction to him.  Obama comes into the presidency amidst the worst conditions we've faced since the Depression (with the possible exception of the period right after 9/11) and yet there's an incredibly positive reception to him.   Yes, Congress generally treats presidents well at these sessions, and it's early. Yet one senses a level of respect and perhaps curiosity and admiration for him that seems to go beyond the norm.  Perhaps he benefits because the most recent comparison was so overmatched by the job but I think it also says something about the way Obama's fellow politicians view someone whom they realize has special gifts.

Second, the audacity of it, which I think is a positive.  Obama didn't just focus on getting us out of the economic hole he found us in a month ago, a challenging enough task, particularly since there are no tried and true models.  He also plans to take on some of the most intractable problems in American politics and government--energy independence and climate change, health care, and educational equity--while cutting the deficit in half.  He has set targets for himself--cut deficit on half by end of term, health care this year, etc--which can serve as measures of his success and for others to hold him accountable.  But he approaches these problems with an FDR-like 'can do, will do' optimism.

Third, the integrity of the address.  He's talking 'sense to the American people,' as Adlai Stevenson put it, but to Congress, too.  We are falling behind.  Our political system ducks the difficult problems and passes the buck.  Government officials need to  take some risks. And they need to approach their work in a bipartisan fashion in which ideas are tested against competing ideas.  In essence, we have a heritage of solving problems and meeting tests yet we've been underachieving and now is the time to get off the couch, to take honest looks in the mirror and respond as other generations did.

Finally, I thought the way he formulated the 'educational equity' argument was just right.  Too often the argument is made simply as a 'rights' argument, that everyone should have a right to a suitable education, etc. which of course is right.  But Obama made the case in a utilitarian way--that all of us have an interest in tapping the talent among us, that there is lost talent in poor kids who are consigned to lousy schools and who can't get college loans, and that America, not simply those children, suffers by the loss.

It's early and all is by no means perfect--he needs to get a government together, finish his Cabinet, and fill in the departments, etc.--but I think we are watching some one with Mount Rushmore potential.

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