iOS app Android app More

Beau Friedlander

Beau Friedlander

Posted February 24, 2009 | 06:05 PM (EST)

Tonight's Joint Session of Congress: No Stump Speech, Please


Earlier today the New York Times reported on a poll conducted in conjunction with CBS News that revealed no surprises. The country is worried about it's immediate future, but sold on Obama's message of hope. Tonight President Obama will deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress.

Jeff Zeleny's article argued that the president is now in a strong position to sell his economic policies. It's a plausible position to take. 63% of Americans approve of the job Obama's doing.

I poked around my friends who cover politics today and to a person I found a sense of wonderment; no one can rightly say why Obama's approval rating is still high. When it comes to selling his economic plan, many are confused. Which one? I heard that question twice today.

There have been innumerable gaffes in the personnel department, the economy continues to spiral downward, and we're launching a second TARP rather than taking possession of imperiled banks. Why all this hope?

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman and a host of renowned economists now argue for nationalization of our failing banks. Obama has a majority in Congress and even a conditional endorsement from horse-and-sparrow economist Alan Greenspan. Nationalization is possible and necessary and it could be a done deal, but it won't be. Why? Because Obama is playing it safe, and selling a song.

A lot of people like his song. George Lakoff seems to think Obama is the embodiment of the perfect progressive. In fact he wrote a piece that was published today about the seven intellectual underpinnings of the Obama phenomenon that turn out to be a very good expression of Lakoff's main theories about the deep psychology of the liberal and conservative poltiical outlook. He would argue that liberals embody the promise of the United States of America, much more so than the Republicans--but with a fence-straddling ethos

What President Obama has been attempting in his speeches is a return to the original frames of the Framers, reconstituting what it means to be an American, to be patriotic, to be a citizen and to share in both the sacrifices and the glories of our country. In seeking "bipartisan" support, he is looking beyond political affiliations to those who share those values on particular issues. In his economic plan, he is attempting to realign our economy with the moral missions of government: protection and empowerment for all.

President Obama needs to accomplish something remarkable tonight. He needs to sell the hope he ran on and inspire a nation to do something that seems to be beyond us alone, but which may be possible if we all work together.

So what's that look like? Obama needs to outdo Roosevelt. He needs to bring equal measures of inspiration, hope, and toughness. He needs to talk spending money in the right places. It's a complicated message. Spend on health care, education: invest in the future. He needs to sell his philosophy again, but this is not a stump speech. This is the time to stand and deliver in real time with real issues and real solutions--and real consequences.