Rupert Cornwell: More chastened Clinton than sunny Reagan, but a second term beckons

Share
Related Topics

Barack Obama's State of the Union address, with its plea for bipartisanship and sober analysis of the problems facing the country, staked out the terrain for his 2012 bid for re-election bid, which – right now at least – he looks odds-on to secure.

As the President noted, politics in America have always been rowdy, messy and disputatious, a pattern surely only temporarily interrupted by shock at the Tucson shootings. But voters like to think their elected representatives are working together for the national good. And that was the image Mr Obama sought to project.

His speech wasn't very uplifting; indeed by the frequently triumphalist standards of its predecessors, it was almost austere. So was its underlying message: America must "out-innovate, out-educate and out-build" the rest of the world – or become less and less able to compete with the likes of China in the global marketplace.

The sober feel to the occasion was partly due to the unusual mingling of many Republicans and Democrats, sitting side by side and wearing black and white ribbons in honour of the victims of the Tucson shootings, who include Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

At times, Mr Obama tried to project the sunny optimism of Ronald Reagan – but that is not his style. A better comparison is the chastened Bill Clinton after his midterm disaster of 1994.

Mr Clinton moved to the centre then, and Mr Obama is doing the same now. The support of centrist independent voters was key to his 2008 success. The desertion of independents was the biggest reason for the Democratic debacle three months ago.

Even more important, the centre is the place from which an incumbent President can play his strongest card, presenting himself as a unifier, above the daily political fray. Tuesday's speech, inevitably, was no match for his moving, pitch-perfect address after Tucson. But for the millions of television viewers who were its most important audience, it might have struck a similar chord.

All of which means his opponents must be very careful. No-one expects the post-Tucson truce will last. But if the polls are right, the majority of Americans believe he is more willing than Republicans to make the necessary compromises.

Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget committee who delivered the official Republican response, was careful. He spoke of the grim consequences that awaited if the US did not quickly reduce the deficit. But he came across as reasonable and constructive.

Not so Michele Bachmann, spokeswoman of the Tea Party faction on Capitol Hill. Her response, which the Republican leadership frowned upon but was powerless to prevent, was the usual tirade against Mr Obama's 'socialist' takeover of America. After she had finished, the Republicans came across as divided. Which is why Mr Obama at this stage looks a decent bet for a second term.



React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Programmer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Bridgend based software de...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Printer

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A specialist retail and brand c...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Mininster: I would legislate for abortion on demand and abolish VAT on sanitary products

Caroline Criado-Perez
 

Election catch-up: Just what the election needs – another superficially popular but foolish policy

John Rentoul
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence