President Obama returns to 'change' in first State of the Union address
In his first address to a joint session of Congress in a year, President Barack Obama Wednesday returned in the role that won him the presidency — as the agent of change.
But Obama also decided to step back and take aim at the branch of government that has frustrated his ambitions and led his Democratic Party to a potentially disastrous result in this year's midterm elections.
After allowing Congress to take the lead on his most important priorities - the health care overhaul, climate change, energy bills and restructuring immigration - Obama appeared to be signaling that he would now take on more of a role as advocate and challenger.
"People are out of work. They are hurting," Obama said. ". . . And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay."
He sought to enlist the help of the voters, who appear to be increasingly impatient with Congress and its inability to deliver on legislation.
"I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change - or at least that I can deliver it," he said. "But remember this - I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone."
Outlining a series of new initiatives to create jobs, give added security to the middle class, expand education and reduce the deficit, Obama repeatedly put the onus on Congress.
And he repeatedly blamed the politics of destruction, the never-ending campaign, the desire to score points rather than pass legislation, as the cause of the gridlock that was leading Americans to cynicism.
"Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time for something new. Let's try common sense," he said.
"To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now," he said. "We face a deficit of trust - deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years."
Looking ahead, Obama outlined a series of reforms Congress must enact - posting all earmarks on one Web page, for example.
Obama had to shake up his image to give his administration a chance to regroup and to give many in his own party who are disillusioned with him another reason to support him.
It was a necessary pivot, New York political consultant Hank Sheinkopf and other
Democrats said, especially after voters in Massachusetts sent shock waves with the upset victory of a Republican to replace the Democratic lion, Sen. Edward Kennedy.
But Obama walked a fine line at times Wednesday night, calling for bipartisanship while loading blame on Republicans and the Bush administration for leaving him with $1 trillion in debt, two wars and a financial crisis.
And he may again have fallen short by trying to find a middle ground on a complex economic problem - offering to freeze the nondefense budget for three years, a move that neither Democrats nor Republicans respect.
And Obama took aim at influences that create disillusionment. "Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith," he said. "The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away."
Tom Brune is a Newsday staff writer.