Video: ‘Hopeful’ Obama speaks on jobs, voter anger

  1. Closed captioning of: ‘Hopeful’ Obama speaks on jobs, voter anger

    >> republican jeb bush . but let's begin at the white house with nbc's chuck todd , our chief white house correspondent. chuck, good morning to you.

    >> reporter: well, good morning, matt. look, it was a very animated president obama last night who delivered his first state of the union that was as much about trying to shore up his own political standing with the american public as it was about laying out his agenda for the coming year.

    >> the worst of the storm has passed.

    >> reporter: the president took pains to talk about hope at a time when so many americans seemed to have so little.

    >> i have never been more hopeful about america's future than i am tonight. despite our hardships, our union is strong.

    >> reporter: his speech, as much about the tenor of the debate in washington as the policy.

    >> as i'm comfortable and contentious as the debates may become, it's time to get serious about fixing the premtz that are hampering our growth.

    >> reporter: the president made it crystal clear , he knows what the top issue is for americans .

    >> jobs must be our number one focus in 2010 , and that's why i'm calling for a new jobs bill tonight.

    >> reporter: but there were plenty of other priorities -- financial regulatory reform , energy, climate change , education, trade, deficit reduction, even gays in the military , and of course, health care .

    >> and by now, it should be fairly obvious that i didn't take on health care because it was good politics. i take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the american people .

    >> reporter: the president reiterated his hope that health care reform would pass soon.

    >> don't walk away from reform, not now, not when we are so close.

    >> reporter: without mentioning it by name, the president responded to last week's republican upset in massachusetts and voter anger at washington .

    >> i'm not naive. i never thought that the mere fact of my election would usher in peace and harmony and some postpartum san era, but what frustrates the american people is a washington where every day is election day.

    >> reporter: the president did his best to offer republicans something to stand up and cheer about, talking about all the tax cuts he implemented.

    >> we cut tax.

    >> reporter: that didn't do it.

    >> i thought i'd get some applause on that one.

    >> reporter: but he challenged republicans with ideas he thought could win them over.

    >> a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country, opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. we will strengthen our trade relations in asia and with key partners like south korea and panama and colombia.

    >> reporter: that line got republicans standing up while democrats stayed seated. and while mr. obama criticized the supreme court 's decision allowing corporations to spend more money on politics, it apparently did not sit well with justice samuel alito , who cameras caught silently voicing apparent disagreement with the president, but mr. obama kept coming back to this one theme.

    >> right now, i know there are many americans who aren't sure they still believe we can change or that i can deliver it.

    >> reporter: and ending up how he started.

    >> we don't quit. i don't quit. let's seize this moment to start anew , to carry the dream forward and to strengthen our union once more.

    >> reporter: like most presidents after a state of the union , the president is getting out of washington . he and vice president biden are going to go to tampa, florida, today to announce an $8 billion program from the federal government to jump-start the building of light rail around the country. this traveling outside of washington is something you should expect to see a lot of from the president in the coming months, meredith.

    >> chuck todd , thank you. joe

updated 1/27/2010 11:28:11 PM ET 2010-01-28T04:28:11

Humility. Check.

Bipartisanship, debt reduction, populist anger. Check. Check. Check.

More jobs? On it.

President Barack Obama checked every political box needed to restart his troubled presidency Wednesday night, but that may not be enough to consider his State of Union address a success.

Did he strengthen his connection with the American public? Or did he sound like a politician with a stack of prescriptions for his political ills?

At his best, Obama rekindled his campaign 2008 message of hope and resilience, with a dash of what he's not known for: contrition.

"I campaigned on the promise of change — change we can believe in, the slogan went," he said. "And right now, 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."

Time to change course
A steady decline in Obama's approval ratings along with a stunning election rebuke last week — populist Republican Scott Brown captured Ted Kennedy's Senate seat from Massachusetts — convinced Obama it was time to change course.

The president used his prime-time address to essentially concede that he had failed to communicate his empathy for hard-luck Americans.

And so he said of Americans battered by the economy: "Change has not come fast enough."

Of the bank bailout program: "I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal."

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And of the health care debate: "I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people."

Obama message Wednesday night: I hear you.

He opened the next critical stage of his presidency by covering many of the same bases by former President Clinton touched a few months after his presidency was rocked by the 1994 midterm elections. In his 1995 State of the Union address, standing before a Congress suddenly in GOP hands, Clinton vowed to shrink government, keep the economy growing and help the middle class. He urged an end to "partisanship, pettiness and anger."

This is how it broke down for Obama:

  • Small government. The nation's debt stands at more than $12 trillion, a fiscal hole that many voters lay at Obama's feet even thought he inherited much of it. Obama's answer: A three-year spending freeze that would apply to only about one-sixth of overall spending. He pledged to create a task force to recommend politically tough actions to reduce the debt.
  • Good government. A year ago, Obama promised to bring sweeping change to Washington but bent his own anti-lobbying rules, cut deals for votes and became one of the nation's most polarizing presidents. Obama's response: He renewed his plea to "overcome the numbing weight of our politics" and fix Washington.
  • Populism. Independent voters have swung away from Obama largely because of their frustrations over financial bailouts sponsored by the Bush and Obama administrations. A CNN poll found that by a 2-to-1 margin voters thought Obama had paid more attention to the problems of banks than the problems of the middle class. Obama answered by underscoring his proposal to levy a fee on big banks. He unveiled plans to give community banks $30 billion in money Wall Street banks have repaid the government.
  • More jobs. While Obama has devoted much of his time and political capital to keep the economy afloat, the public's attention has been drawn to the lengthy, messy drive in Congress to pass health care legislation. That has raised the question, Does he care about the issues that matter to me? Only 39 percent of voters believe he has the right goals, according to the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll.

Video: Speech mirrors voter frustrations That may be why he was, at times Wednesday night, as empathetic as Clinton. He spoke of economic "devastation" and the "anguish" of working-class Americans. "I know the anxieties that are out there right now," he said. "They are not new."

Passing of the buck
The last phrase was a reference to economic woes he inherited from Republican President George W. Bush. Obama pointed back at Bush — a subtle passing of the buck — at least a half-dozen times.

And yet he addressed head-on the criticism that the Obama administration has not lived up to its hype and hope.

Winding up the address, Obama noted the public's lack of faith in U.S. institutions — including corporations, the media and the government — and said the cynicism gets worse every time a CEO cashes in, a banker takes a selfish risk, a lobbyist games the system and "politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up."

"No wonder," he said, "there is so much disappointment."

He is disappointed, too, Obama said.

"But remember this — I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone," Obama said. "Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is."

How can it become?

That is the question Obama and members of Congress will answer in the months ahead. And, in fall elections, voters will decide whether Obama and his fellow Democrats did more done than checking boxes.

Ron Fournier is Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press. Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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