For most of this year, when taking his case to the public, President Obama has offered himself as the “reasonable man in the room”—the trustworthy adult in a roomful of bickering children. This was most apparent during last month’s fight over the debt ceiling, when the public face of the president was of a stern professor, lecturing his unruly students on proper behavior in the class.
In many ways, this evening’s  Barack Obama wasn’t much different. Yes, he was irritated—and at times, even angry—but the target of his ire remained the same, an unidentified collection of “some” people, who happen to block everything proposed by the White House. This, for instance, sounds like the same Obama you’ve always known, “I know some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live. Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away. ”
Still, for those who wanted a more aggressive president, Obama’s newfound assertiveness was a welcome development. For starters, it gave real urgency to his pitch for the American Jobs Act, the $447 billion stimulus package that formed the core of his address this evening to a joint session of Congress (the fifth of his presidency).
What’s more, it gave real force to Obama’s attacks on conservative ideas, which were present throughout the speech. “No single individual built America on their own,” said Obama, as he attacked right-wing mythologizing, “We built it together. We have been, and always will be, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; a nation with responsibilities to ourselves and with responsibilities to one another.”
As for the proposal, here’s what it looks like: $175 billion in continued employee-side payroll tax cuts along with $65 billion cuts for employers. $100 billion in spending for infrastructure, which includes $50 billion for highways and transportation, $30 billion for school repair and construction, and $10 billion to establish an infrastructure bank. $35 billion in aid to states—to help them hire and train teachers—and billions in additional unemployment benefits.
Of course, given Republican intransigence, this has no hope of passing Congress. Which means, in a sense, that this address isn’t likely to mean much for the White House’s re-election efforts. President Obama delivered an excellent speech—maybe the best of his presidency—but the bully pulpit isn’t an effective means for moving public opinion. For that, Obama needs decent economic growth, and absent a cooperative Republican Party, that’s not happening any time soon.
Photo credit: President Barack Obama delivers an address on jobs and the economy, Chuck Kennedy, 9/8/11