We have long known that Barack Obama can do the "vision thing." In this State of the Union address, though, he did the specific thing.
This president, who reportedly pores over every David Brooks column, rejected the Times man's elite advice and instead spoke directly to the guy who drives the truck that delivers the Times. Sorry to pick on Brooks, who is terribly nice and very bright and thoroughly decent. But his most recent column called for Mr. Obama not to address the economy "in the standard way," but rather "in a visionary way." The global economy, in Mr. Brooks' metaphor is "like the competition between elite universities, who vie for prestige in a networked search for knowledge."
As compelling as it may be to compare your brother-in-law's unemployment to Harvard bidding against Princeton for a top sociology prof, the president chose a different course. He dropped the airy-fairy visionary verbiage and talked turkey.
The president used the word "job" or "jobs" 30 times, and "competitive" just once. Hurray! He used commonsense metaphors (Sputnik was the exception) like saying that "cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. You may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact."
Critics will no doubt complain that the speech was a laundry list. But when you're feeling naked, clean laundry is a pretty useful thing. No one has ever walked up to me and said, "I need a visionary American competitiveness initiative." But lots of folks have told me, "I need a job."
In his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke directly to those people -- the ones Bill Clinton calls "walkin' around folks." I suspect a lot of those folks will be lining up to march behind the plainspoken, commonsense, practical leadership President Obama is offering.