Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union speech: chastened Barack Obama appeals for unity

required him to verge at times into the unfamiliar territory of humility, as he showed that the lessons of a bruising first year had been absorbed.

"Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved," he admitted. On the deadlocked health care bill, he said: "I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people." But admitting his own mistakes was combined with forceful demands for his audience of Congressmen to put doing the people's work above their own interests.

"We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let's show the American people that we can do it together," he said, in one of many entreaties for both parties to set politicking aside.

He warned Democrats scared after the loss of a Senate seat in liberal Massachusetts not to "run for the hills" and urged Republicans not to "say no to everything".

These occasions can be rowdy. When he spoke to a joint session of Congress in September a Republican congressman called him a liar. At one point a member of the audience tried to interrupt the president but was briskly removed from the chamber.

But you could have heard the proverbial pin drop when the president dwelt on why Americans had lost faith in business, the media and the government. This is clearly a subject that bothers those whose behaviour is a major source of the problem.

"I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went," said Mr Obama. "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," he said.

After last night, there probably will be more Americans ready to accept that he can live up to his promises. But as the public has shown at the ballot box, their patience will not last long.

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