SOTU deja vu?

    President Obama’s State of the Union speech is not being circulated in advance, but I anticipate that he’ll seek to establish a conciliatory tone and a centrist governing agenda. For instance…  
    He’ll likely acknowledge the recent midterm shellacking and welcome John Boehner: “Once again our democracy has spoken. The American people certainly voted for change. So let me begin by congratulating all of you here and congratulating you, Mr. Speaker.”He’ll likely say that he has humbly accepted the election results: “I came to this hallowed chamber two years ago on a mission, to restore the American dream for all our people. I was determined then to tackle the tough problems too long ignored. In this effort I am frank to say that I have made my mistakes, and I have learned again the importance of humility in all human endeavor.”He’ll likely spend a few minutes denouncing the vicious tone of political discourse, and pleading for greater civility: “Our civil life is suffering in America today. Citizens are working together less and shouting at each other more. The common bonds of community which have been the great strength of our country from its very beginning are badly frayed.”Most of us in politics haven’t helped very much. For years, we’ve mostly treated citizens like they were consumers or spectators, sort of political couch potatoes who were supposed to watch the TV ads either promise them something for nothing, or play on their fears and frustrations. And more and more of our citizens now get most of their information in very negative and aggressive ways that are hardly conducive to honest and open conversations. But the truth is, we have got to stop seeing each other as enemies just because we have different views.”My fellow Americans, without regard to party, let us rise to the occasion. Let us put aside partisanship and pettiness and pride. As we embark on this new course, let us put our country first, remembering that regardless of party label, we are all Americans. And let the final test of everything we do be a simple one: Is it good for the American people?”He’ll likely bemoan our perisistent economic problems, and position himself as the defender of the average working American: “We must have dramatic change in our economy, our government. Too many of our people are still working harder and harder, for less and less. Too many of our people still can’t be sure of having a job next year or even next month. The American people look at their Capital, and they see a city where the well-connected and the well-protected can work the system, but the interests of ordinary citizens are often left out. The old way of governing around here protected organized interests. We should look out for the interests of ordinary people.”On the crucial issue of government spending in Year Three of his tenure, he’ll likely frame himself as a centrist who rejects both liberal orthodoxy and conservative extremism: “I hope very much that as we debate these specific and exciting matters, we can go beyond the sterile discussion between the illusion that there is somehow a program for every problem, on the one hand, and the other illusion that the government is a source of every problem we have. “Our job is to get rid of yesterday’s government so that our own people can meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs. And we ought to do it together. We have to cut yesterday’s government to help solve tomorrow’s problems. But we should all remember, and almost all of us would agree, that government still has important responsibilities. Our young people —we should think of this when we cut — our young people hold our future in their hands. We still owe a debt to our veterans. And our senior citizens have made us what we are. Now, my budget cuts a lot. But it protects education, veterans, Social Security, and Medicare, and I hope you will do the same thing. “I applaud your desire to get rid of costly and unnecessary regulations. But when we deregulate, let’s remember what national action in the national interest has given us: safer food for our families, safer toys for our children, safer nursing homes for our parents, safer cars and highways, and safer workplaces, cleaner air, and cleaner water. Do we need common sense and fairness in our regulations? You bet we do. But we can have common sense.”Should we cut the deficit more? Well, of course we should. But we can bring it down in a way that still protects our economic recovery and does not unduly punish people who should not be punished but instead should be helped.And he’ll likely invoke our past to buttress his bipartisan centrist pitch: “If you go back to the beginning of this country, the great strength of America – as de Tocqueville pointed out when he came here a long time ago – has always been our ability to associate with people who were different from ourselves and to work together to find common ground. And in this day, everybody has a responsibility to do more of that.”Well, guess what. All those quoted passages (with only very minimal editing) were drawn directly from Bill Clinton’s 1995 State of the Union speech. Clinton delivered those remarks two months after his own midterm shellacking. In preparation for his ’96 re-election bid, he signaled his intention to seize the center – this came to be known as “triangulation” – by positioning himself as the broker who wanted to work with conservative Republicans as well as liberal Democrats, without being hostage to either side.It’s often facile to suggest that the past is prologue. But given the fact that Obama has lately broken the 50 percent job-approval barrier with help from swing voters who increasingly perceive him as moderate, we can surely expect to hear some rhetorical echoes tomorrow night from the only Democratic president since FDR to win two successive elections. Obama could do a lot worse.——-Are we mournful or relieved or indifferent that Keith Olbermann has flamed out as a prime-time MSNBC polemicist? Or maybe all three? Whatever your mix may be, let us bid farewell with the brilliant assistance of Ben Affleck.

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