EDITORIAL: Can Obama Keep All Those Promises?
Here's hoping President Obama didn't bite off more than he can chew on Tuesday night.
His speech to Congress was a State of the Union address in everything but name. (Presidents don't give those in their first year in office.) He delivered his message powerfully and articulately, especially when you contrast it with the laughably amateurish and inadequate Republican response delivered by Louisana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
It was also fun to see how the president worded various parts of his address in a way that often -- but by no means always -- left those on the Republican side no choice but to stand and reluctantly clap along with majority Democrats, lest they appear to be against motherhood and apple pie.
The atmosphere in the chamber, which sometimes threatened to verge accidentally into something resembling actual bipartisanship, was infectiously enthusiastic -- even if TV watchers did grow tired of watching House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's unnervingly frenetic eye-blinkings and jumpings up and down as she applauded wildly at every other phrase.
But seldom if ever has a president gone rushing so heavily out onto so many limbs at once. You had to wonder how long it will be before some of them start breaking under him.
Piling On the Programs
Obama had been widely criticized and even ridiculed (see cartoon below) for sounding too much like a prophet of doom as he inventoried all the horrendous troubles facing the country, failing to inject enough Rooseveltian optimism. He seemed determined to move beyond that in Tuesday's speech, and at times he managed to come across as downright inspirational.
But in the end, he may have overcompensated. Instead of merely listing problems, he felt compelled to promise to solve all of them. Then he threw some more biggies into the mix and promised to solve them as well.
Surely the crises in finance, housing and the auto industry would have been enough to tackle at this moment in history. Was it really necessary to throw in demands that we simultaneously undertake to revamp the nation's health-care system and revolutionize our energy grid as well? Even the best firemen can only put out so many fires at once.
His Personal Stamp Everywhere
Obama has made a point of staying constantly in the public eye in his first month, jetting here and there and holding press conferences and public forums every other day or so. Riding high on a wave of popularity, he seems determined to put his own personal signature on every program and every promise, instead of spreading the credit -- and potential blame -- more widely among Cabinet members and others.
It is refreshing to see a president displaying such availability and openness. But there is an accompanying danger of overexposure -- in the sense of vulnerability as well as visibility.
Similarly, with crisis-fighting projects already running into the trillions, is this really the time to be throwing out yet more mega-costly programs, no matter how important or worthy? Wouldn't the administration be better off focusing on the two or three most pressing issues now, rather than subjecting the populace to such dizzying sensory and budgetary overload?
The nation is lucky to have a man in the White House who is so eager to get out in front and lead. But as in the military, a point guard should take care not to get so far ahead of the other troops that he puts himself at risk of being cut off.
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