State of the Union: Obama Reverts to Teaching Again

The president fell back on his old habit of speaking from his head instead of his heart.

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John Boehner did not cry.

Though President Barack Obama twice seemed to attempt to provoke a flood of tears from the notoriously weepy new speaker of the House of Representatives, Boehner remained dry-eyed throughout last night's State of the Union address.

He was not alone in being unmoved by the president's curiously unmoving remarks.

Last night we saw the old Obama: the aloof, professorial intellectual who speaks from the head instead of the heart. He seemed like a completely different kind of political leader from the inspiring orator who only a few days ago captured the nation's shock and sorrow in his uplifting sermon in the wake of the slaughter in Tucson, Ariz.

That was the Obama who could have accomplished the goal the president set out for himself last night: to rally the nation in an all-out effort to win the future by encouraging innovation in education, science and industry.

The speech Obama delivered last night didn't come close to achieving that objective. It was flat. The closest it came to providing a ringing rhetorical flourish that the audience could cling to once the speech was over was Obama's proclamation, "This is our generation's Sputnik moment." Not exactly a call to action on the order of, say, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

I'll leave it to others to dissect the proposals made by Obama and those delivered by his Republican and Tea Party opponents. They seemed, to my ear at least, to be mostly a rehash of old ideas that we've heard before from all sides in the debate.

The president did not even mention some of the most pressing issues facing the nation, such as the sky-high unemployment rate. He suggested a five-year freeze on some domestic spending and a stem-to-stern reorganization of government, but as to how these ideas would be carried out, he didn't offer a clue.

It would, of course, have been politically unwise for Obama to be too specific about policies that will no doubt unleash furious partisan bickering with the newly energized right-wing Republican majority in the House. Yet I was left hungering for more, much more, especially because Obama's standing, reflected in rising poll numbers, has been growing stronger of late.

Since suffering a self-described "shellacking" in the midterm election, the president had seemed to regain his footing and decided to lead instead of instruct. Especially in his speech in Tucson, he struck me as having found a unity between his own head and his heart that, in turn, allowed him to touch the heads and hearts of the people.

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