Feelin’ Alright

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Seems I’ve got to have a change of scene
‘Cause every night I have the strangest dream
Imprisoned by the way it could’ve been
Left here on my own
So it seems
I’ve got to leave before I start to scream
But someone locked the door and took the key …

– Traffic

Calling the second half of January a catastrophe for the president, the Democrats and the country at large sells the word “catastrophe” short. A health care “reform” process that was already trailing smoke suddenly lost cabin pressure and spiraled into the sea when the single most unpoachable Senate seat in the history of the universe, held for 46 years by the late Ted Kennedy, flipped into Republican hands because Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley thought she could win without actually running a campaign. Before the screaming had a chance to die down after that debacle, the Supreme Court came swooping in and dropped a gigantic dung bomb on the entire body politic, delivering our democratic processes into the hands of corporations which already exert far too much influence over every facet of our lives.

President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress emerged from the smoke and ash of this twin-bill disaster with little more than a perplexed look on their faces, further cementing the emerging public consensus that the 2008 elections put into power a group of well-meaning incompetents who, despite having the virtually unfettered ability to accomplish just about whatever they want, cannot seem to get out of their own way. A 41-seat minority in the Senate somehow translated into total power and complete victory for the GOP, and every pundit with the ability to draw breath began predicting an imminent Democratic bloodbath in the upcoming 2010 Congressional midterm elections.

Boy you sure took me for one big ride
Even now I sit and I wonder why
When I think of you I stop myself from crying
I just can’t waste my time
I must get by
Got to stop believing in all your lies
‘Cause there’s too much to do before I die …

On Wednesday night, President Obama will have the unenviable task of explaining to the American people that he, his administration and his Democratic allies in Congress are not, in fact, worthless. The American people overwhelmingly elected him because he promised to change the nature of politics, promised to right the ship after eight years of Bushian mayhem, promised to fix health care, create jobs, save the environment, rebuild the economy, bring the troops home from Iraq and defend the nation from terrorism, but after what may have been the fastest year on record, the glass remains definitively less than half full.

From across the ocean, the UK Guardian assessed the challenges arrayed before Mr. Obama in his Wednesday night State of the Union address:

How high are the stakes for Barack Obama’s first state of the union address? They’re high all right, but in a different way from most major Obama speeches in the past.

The pattern has been: trouble arises, whether on the issue of race (during the campaign) or how on earth a wartime president could be awarded the world’s most prestigious peace prize (during his presidency). A big speech is planned. Obama either nails it (the race speech) or at least comes up with language that nearly everyone concedes is thoughtful and serious (the Nobel lecture). The result in both of those cases, and others, was that Obama was able to finesse the hanging questions with rhetoric: statements of abstract principles, acknowledgment of contradiction and nuance, broad visionary assessments of where the country and world are and where they ought to go.

For a state of the union speech – any one, but this one more than most – rhetoric won’t suffice. The situation he faces now, teetering at the midpoint in polls and facing the loss of the (allegedly) bullet-proof Senate super-majority, is about facts. It’s about the reality he is in, and how he is going to respond to it. This speech won’t be judged on the basis of the capital-V Vision, but on the clarity of eyesight about very concrete things.

In other words, if Mr. Obama maintains his above-the-fray countenance in the face of very real and ever-increasing anxiety within the American public about his attitude and performance, another well-phrased political aria from the podium won’t get the job done. A year later, most people are feeling only a year older, a year poorer and more than a little disappointed.

Don’t get too lost in all I say
‘Cause at the time I really felt that way
But that was then and now it’s today
I can’t escape
I guess I’m here to stay
’til someone comes along to take my place
With a different name and a different face …

Of course, it has only been a year. The mess left behind by the previous administration – indeed, by the last ten administrations – has translated into a series of seemingly insurmountable dilemmas that would challenge the wits and will of King Solomon himself. Combine that with a Republican Party far removed from its Linconian roots and in the thrall of a base whose hatred and desire to simply destroy rather than create is all consuming, and the task before Obama and his people becomes even more daunting.

But he wanted the job. He wanted it so badly, in fact, that he spent nearly a thousand days trying to get it. Now it’s his, warts and all. The American people, well-trained in the art of short-term memory loss, have come to the conclusion that everything happening now is Obama’s fault, and the polls reflect this without dispute. One speech on Wednesday night won’t fix all that ails us, but if Mr. Obama doesn’t hit precisely the right notes in the delivery, his second year could come to make his first year seem like a Cape Cod clambake by comparison.

Is he up to it? Are we?

Feelin’ alright
I’m not feeling too good myself
(Posted by Bulatlat.com))

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