All the commentary leading up to the State of the Union noted the president’s historically low poll ratings and unpopular Iraq strategy. But it really isn’t an option for any president to go before Congress and take the fetal position—and it isn’t a temptation for this president. Instead, he gave a speech that matched genuine outreach with ideological boldness. Once again the expectations of the president were driven down by exaggerated commentary. Once again he gracefully exceeded those expectations.
The president’s graciousness to the new Speaker, and mention of her father, set a tone of civility. And the president used that tone to argue for a series of creative domestic initiatives. His health plan moves in the direction of universal, government-subsidized, individual ownership of private health plans, the only feasible alternative to a statist reorganization of American health care. His immigration plan repudiates the worst, nativist elements of his own party, and has an improved chance of passage in the new Congress. His energy plan recognizes that reduced dependence on foreign oil is a national-security imperative, and his prominent mention of tighter CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards is a necessary departure from Republican orthodoxy.