The president gave a campaign speech tonight, but the Democrats had better hope that this is not what their campaign speeches are like this year. It was amazingly disconnected from the moment — treating and describing the public as downtrodden, depressed, but resilient, when the public mood seems more like fed up.
There was some good news in the speech. I think the only way to read the health-care section — when you cool off you should take another look at our plans, and let me know if you have better ideas — is as an acknowledgement that Obamacare as we have known it is dead. And his taking pride in not having raised taxes is certainly something to keep in the back pocket for the years to come.
But on the whole, this was really an incredibly graceless, self-righteous, and grouchy performance. It had a lot of what’s bad about Obama’s speeches (he said “I” almost a hundred times, repeatedly referred to his campaign as though it were a great American story we all love, continued to blame Bush for everything under the sun even as he said he was “not interested in re-litigating the past,” and piled clichés sky high) but none of what’s good about his speeches — the simple theme simply pursued. It was a very Clintonian speech without Clinton’s human charm.
Of course, it won’t make much of a difference either way — and it wouldn’t have even if it had been a much better or a much worse speech. But it’s interesting as an indication of where the administration’s thinking is at the moment. It really didn’t suggest the sharp pivot everyone has thought was coming: He was very defensive of everything he has done all year. But it also didn’t suggest a renewed determination to pursue his agenda: The speech was very vague and not very energetic. The Massachusetts election has certainly left the Democrats disoriented, and it showed tonight.