The speech is, after all, called the State of the Union, not the State of the World. So perhaps President Barack Obama can be excused for dwelling on the American economy in his remarks Tuesday night, and all but ignoring the economic and political crises of the planet. There was lots of talk about how the U.S. has come back from the Great Recession, and about the president's plan (which the Republican-dominated Congress is likely to reject) to use new government programs and tax cuts to make up for the troubling stagnation of middle-class wages. But however assertive Obama was about the durability and creativity of the U.S. economy, he had little to say about global matters -- from economics to terrorism to the environment.
I had my first sit-down with Barack Obama in his Senate office. The sun was streaming in. He came around from behind his desk with that beaming smile, his tie loosened. He sat in a deep chair, his feet up on the coffee table. I was taken with his confidence, talent, grasp of the issues and buoyant charm: the real deal. That was early in 2007. Later that year I sat down with Mitt Romney on the Republican primary-season campaign trail. I had interviewed him years earlier, at his suburban Boston home. He hadn't changed a bit: chilly smile, wary but gracious, well informed, a mix of a steely mind, ferocious ambition and earnest Mormon good will: a class act. Today I ask: where did those two men go? Or were they mirages? The way both have campaigned this year makes me wonder. Is there something about the presidency -- or the pursuit of it -- that attacks the character of men and women under its spell?