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27
It was a rare feat: Frank Luntz somehow found the twenty maddest-at-Obama people in the country and put them in a ‘focus group’ on Fox News after the President’s State of the Union speech – and they didn’t have one kind word to say.
 
But you have to give the devil his due: Barack Obama can be a powerful speaker. Who has a unique political voice. And Tuesday night there was no ‘voice’ on the Republican side of the aisle with the power to match him. 
 
And that’s what Republicans need to find sooner rather than later: A ‘voice’ who can step to a podium, look Obama in the eye, and answer him.

 

 

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23

 

Most of us older white conservatives just naturally see a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts who taught at Harvard and figure – barring a miracle – she’s got to be a liberal so it came as a shock the other night when a young conservative posted a link to one of Elizabeth Warren’s speeches with one word beside it: Wow!
 
Wall Street, Warren said, is nailing American workers to a ‘Cross of Gold’ to make already rich corporations richer.
 
Then she got right down to brass tacks and said we need to break up the big banks. 

Whatever else Elizabeth Warren may be she’s not just a liberal or just another Massachusetts Senator – she’s a voice we haven’t heard in a long time: The living and fire-breathing reincarnation of William Jennings Bryan populism.

 

 

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21
President Obama's speech last night showed he has a knack for coming back after a setback - and a knack for the comeback quip.
 
Three things about the night: (1) How Obama framed the debate (2) the partisan debate over bipartisanship and (3) the split-screen social media experience of watching political events like what Twitter dubbed #SOTU.
 
Framing the Debate
 
How good was the speech? Well, Democrats wish he had given it before the 2014 elections. And they liked the way he set up the battles to come in Washington this year and in the 2016 elections.
 
It helped, of course, that he had good economic news to talk about. As he chided the dour Republicans, “That’s good news, people.”
 
He framed the fight as good versus evil, fairness versus unfairness, Democrats fighting for the middle class while Republicans cater to the 1 percent. He said “we’ve turned the page” on the recession (read: “Bush”) and are creating more jobs since 1999 (read: “the last time we had a Democratic President, named Clinton”). Bill and Hill had to love that.
 
As one tweet noted during the speech, there probably wasn’t one idea in it that doesn’t get 70 percent support in the polls. The President put himself and the party on high ground for the battles ahead.
 
Partisanship About Bipartisanship
 
After sharply drawing the battle lines, Obama tried a difficult pivot by going back to his 2004 message: “There’s not a Democratic America or Republican America, there’s the United States of America.”
 
You wouldn’t know it by the reaction from Republicans in the hall and afterward. Things still look pretty divided.
 
One big divide is over what constitutes bipartisanship. To Obama, it’s passing the program he outlined. To congressional Republicans, it’s passing theirs. And never the twain shall meet.
 
Yes, we citizens yearn for the two parties to “put aside politics” and “work together” and “do their job.” But there is a fundamental divide in Washington and across the country about what that means. And the divide is over the role of government.
 
Democrats say government can do things to help people and, especially, protect them from the depredations of the free market. Republicans say government can’t do anything, period.
 
That’s a deep gap to bridge.
 
(A new book traces this fundamental debate over government back to the 1966 election: “Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America,” by Jonathan Darman. Check it out.)
 
Even as he called on Republicans to rise about the fray, Obama couldn’t resist a shot. When he said he’d run his last campaign, somebody on the Republican side clapped. He shot back, “I know, because I won both of them.” It sounded too much like the Obama of “you’re likeable enough, Hillary.” Better he had just smiled and said, “You’re welcome.”
 
Split-Screen
 
How did we ever watch political events without Twitter? As you listen to the speech, you can follow the commentary of your choice on Twitter. It’s like being at a basketball game, except people scream on screen rather than at the refs.
 
Judging from Twitter, Obama clearly roused his base. He had Democrats pumped up from the get-go. And Republicans, too. From their get-go, their response was: “Socialism, big government, higher taxes, blah, blah, blah.”
 
Speaking of being onscreen, you almost felt sorry for John Boehner. He had to sit there mute while the President pounded him like a piñata. He had to sit beside Joker Joe Biden popping up to applaud every minute or so. And he knew that millions of people were watching every gesture and facial expression he made.
 
You couldn’t help but stare at him: his skin tone almost exactly matched his red leather chair. He looked like some kind of lizard taking on the coloration of his natural surroundings.
 
All in all, it was a night that put the fun back into politics – for a night.

 

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14
Two headlines this week tell why even President Obama’s fans despair sometimes.
 
First, while Obama and his staff focused on rolling out his free-community college proposal, they neglected to send anybody to the biggest story in the world: the Paris rally against terror. Second, while the President was giving a speech on cybersecurity, our military’s social media sites got hacked.
 
Mere symbolism, you might sniff. But Obama’s greatest failing as a leader is not understanding the importance of symbols like these. It’s not enough to get the policies right. It’s just as important, or more important, to show presidential and national strength.
 
Democrats didn’t lose in November because voters dislike Democratic policies nor like Republican policies. They lost because Obama looks like a weak President, not strong enough to fix the economy and keep American safe and strong.
 
For all the talk about a comeback in his last two years – “Obama being Obama” – the President’s problem isn’t fixable. His image is fixed, and Americans are turning to what they want in the next President.
 
Here’s betting they’ll want a man, or a woman, who is least like what they like least about Obama. They’ll look for a strong President to replace one who looks overwhelmed and over his head.

 

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12

 

Obama stands on a stage in Tennessee and promises nine million people he’ll give them $3,800 a year each (on average) and the press coos he’s made a “dramatic announcement” then a skeptic asks how Obama’ll come up with the money and Obama has the White House staff tell him, ‘That’s beside the point.’
 
As cynical politics it’s breathtaking.
 
In our modern world of five second sound bites, promising something for nothing is more powerful than magic: The President says he hasn’t given much thought to whether he’ll borrow, raise taxes, or cut spending to make every Community College (from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters) free and instead of saying, This fellow’s pulling the wool over our eyes promising us something for nothing – a five second sound bite puts Obama back on top of the world, riding the crest of a PR wave.


 

 

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08
At 76, the California governor is still young at heart, bold of vision and quick of wit.
 
Brown was sworn into his fourth term this week, and he’s off with a bang. He wants to attack global warming by reducing California’s energy consumption over the next 15 years, slashing gas consumption by cars and trucks by as much as 50 percent and having 50 percent of California’s electricity come from renewable sources.
 
Then he got up a head of steam about his proposed 520-mile high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles (price tag: $67 billion).
 
To critics and skeptics, he said: “People do get pusillanimous. I wanted to use that word because that’s the adjective I’m going to affix to all the critics. You can look it up on your cellphone right now. Pusillanimous. It means weak of spirit.”
 
He gave the best argument ever for trains "There's no anti-texting rule on the trains. You can use your iPhone. And you can have a martini or whatever you people drink."
 
Also, "There's also a really big barrier that puts a limit on how many cars—that's called congestion. You can only have so many lanes. You can't keep paving over prime agricultural land. You can't take property off the tax rolls any more than you have to."
 
The SF-LA line wouldn’t be running until 2030, but Brown is not pusillanimous about that, either: “I’ll be 92 in 2030. I’m working and pumping iron and eating vegetables. I want to be around.”

 

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07
In a realm filled with rumors in the blink of an eye fictions take root in fertile soil and blossom adopting the image of spoken truth like this one you’ve heard a hundred times: ‘Romney lost because he shifted too far to the right during the primaries.’
 
In fact, the polls told a completely different story
 
Here’s another: ‘Jeb Bush isn’t conservative enough to win the Presidential Primary’ – this new homily creates a damning circle of logic for Republicans and a heart-warming vision for Democrats: A conservative can’t win the General Election but only a conservative can win a Republican Primary.
 
Cruz can’t win, Paul can’t win, Bush can’t win, which only leaves one question unanswered: How on earth did the Democrats lose the last election?


 

 

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06
You’ve got to love Harry Reid, especially since Republicans hate him so bad.
 
The Harry-haters were hee-hawing and high-fiving last week after Reid hurt himself exercising. One wrote, “It Couldn’t Happen to a Nastier Guy.” Another speculated that Reid is into kinky sex.
 
Here’s hoping that Harry will get well and keep giving ‘em hell. He missed the Senate’s first day back, but his history suggests he won’t stop fighting.
 
Reid, who is 75, keeps in shape by doing pushups, situps and yoga. He was once an amateur boxer. As chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, he took on crooked gamblers. One planted a bomb on his family car, but Reid’s wife found the device.
 
He’s an old-style FDR Democrat. He pushed through Obamacare, which helps more people buy health insurance. And he fiercely protects Social Security, which he calls “the most successful antipoverty program since the fishes and the loaves.”
 
What will he say about the move by newly elected Republican Senators, including Thom Tillis, to eliminate the food-stamp program and replace it with “more affordable free market solutions”?
 
Reid is no golden-tongued orator. And he’s conservative on issues like guns and abortion. But he’s a tough battler who torments Republicans. Now, more than ever, with the handmaidens of the rich and powerful in the majority, the Senate needs him.
 
Get well, Harry.

 

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02
The President, unhappy with North Korea, announced he was going to ‘proportionately’ respond and the next day North Korea’s Internet went black which possibly is a coincidence but may also be proportionate.
 
Now, to be clear, getting hacked by North Korea is a little like getting bitten on the ankle by a small varmint. There’s no need to start a war over it. But there is an unanswered question: That varmint wouldn’t bite a Bengal tiger – so how is it the good ole U.S.A. doesn’t get the same kind of respect?
 
How did we get to be Pollyanna – instead of John Wayne?
 
And that’s why the President’s choice of that word ‘proportionately’ is troubling. It sort of sounds like he’s saying, You nipped us, so we’ll ding you back. Which lacks a certain warrior spirit. Which helps engender respect in varmints like Kim Jong-un.


 

 

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30
Obama may be aloof but he’s also soft-spoken and temperate and if he’s unpopular (due to his failures) beyond his failures he’s a genial man – a traditional liberal who believes government should help people out by providing healthcare and school lunches and so on.
 
But now and then, standing at a podium, the President will speak and for a brief moment a window will open revealing a man who has a vision of America that goes well beyond traditional liberalism.
 
These days it’s unfashionable to be against almost any kind of sex. Enlightenment today requires new levels of tolerance and progress requires not just broadening our views on sex but reforming the related institutions of matrimony, adoption and filing joint tax returns.
 
The other day the President, along with the Attorney General, trod further down the road of sexual progress than anyone else has dared to go – they declared ‘Transgenders’ are an official American Minority under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that the Justice Department stands ready to deal with anyone who differs.
 
Now with no undue disrespect to the President – or to Transgenders – that was a stretch: Not one soul in Congress back in 1964 ever dreamed he was voting to make Transgenders a minority.
 
So now, it looks like, instead of a soft-spoken traditional liberal we have a President on our hands who has a radical vision of the future – and who’s telling us with a straight face he believes fifty years ago Congress declared Transgenders a minority.


 

 

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