President Obama's State of the Union Tuesday night threw down a gauntlet Republicans won't be able to cast aside simply by saying "he's dividing us". His basic thrust was that it's time for American to actually be America, a challenge this country must embrace if we are to think of ourselves as a world leader. What was interesting, however, was the tack of GOP response to the speech.
Republicans, you see, are in a bind. The establishment of the party is very nervous about the direction the right flank is taking (they're more scared of Newt Gingrich than Democrats are). They also know that Mitt Romney, with his $10,000 bets and 15% effective tax rate has absolutely no empathy with the broad swath of the electorate they hope to seduce. So they let the four presidential candidates and the House leadership say what they wanted, and put their faith in Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to respond. It was Daniels that tried to use the issue of divisiveness to paint the president as ineffective.
Yet a confluence of events rendered the Republicans impotent. When President Obama talked about a 30% tax rate for millionaires, he didn't have to mention Romney, who does no real work other than run for president but is worth a quarter of a billion dollars. His attempt to portray himself as a captain of American industry through his stewardship of Bain Capital a decade ago hardly rings true. At the same time, Republican bleating over the president's defense priorities were made moot when two teams of Navy Seals freed an American and a Dane kidnapped and held hostage in Somalia.
For many, the Barack Obama of the past couple of months bears a much closer resemblance to the guy they voted for in '08 than the Obama of '09 and '10. He seems ready to wield his power more frequently, and to circumvent Congress if they want to play the obstructionist games of the recent past. The terms executive order and recess appointment will likely be heard more often moving forward toward the November elections. Ironically, the last hope the Republicans have is that the economy craters again, which is in fact a possibility. That's why President Obama crerated a new mortgage unit to hopefully guard against a new wave of foreclosures.
Make no mistake. This president is done playing. Now the real battle for the soul of America begins.
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