State of the Union

January 27, 2010 12:25:08 PM PST
Power can be a heady thing. It can also be fleeting.

Tonight, President Obama will attempt the difficult feat of acknowledging and apologizing for the former, while simultaneously trying to stall the latter.

It's a thin line he'll be walking. Americans can be a fickle bunch. They like their leaders to have a confident swagger, but not too confident or cocky.

They also like their leaders to accept responsibility - but not in a whining, woe-is-me way.

So which Barack Obama will be see tonight in his first State of the Union address? We'll see both, I suspect.

The confident President will offer up his accomplishments in his first, packed year in the White House. And there are many. He staved off the collapse of the financial markets, he gave CPR to the U.S. auto industry, he cut the mass elimination of jobs, he's tried to unify an education system that is broken and at war with itself, and he has (with the exception of his Afghanistan surge) regained the respect of once-friendly countries that had sneered at U.S. foreign policy since 2001.

The buck-stops-here President will, or should, accept responsibility for getting side-tracked during his let's-try-to-do-everything first year. Reforming health care, make no mistake, was and is desperately needed. But Mr. Obama - trying to avoid the mistake made by Bill Clinton - ceded control of the legislation to Congress. And by the time the sausage-making process was done, there was no reform and a financial win-win for Big Pharm. In addition, at a time when most Americans are worried about getting or keeping a job, reforming health care didn't seem to be a top-of-the-agenda item. Not even in the top five. But still, Mr. Obama persevered.

He also should address the perception that -- excuse the cliché - he has given more attention to the folks on Wall Street than to the folks on Main Street. Keeping the banks alive might have been good for saving the economy, but getting people jobs is the way to grow the economy. Bailing out the banks worked, sort of. Right up until the point when they started giving out enormous bonuses again, and acting, again, like they were Kings of the Universe. Now, Mr. Obama wants to get tough with the banks and the financial markets. Good for him. But he's also got to get back to his original plan to create jobs. What happened to all those incentives to spur employment? What happened to financial incentives for homeowners to install alternative energy - which would help save the planet, decrease our dependence on foreign oil and create jobs? What happened to tax breaks for middle income folks?

The President will also likely talk about homeland security, which has not exactly been his shining issue -- although his get-tough approach after the failed Christmas Day airplane bombing attack was a glimpse of what should be.

There are many who are disappointed in Mr. Obama. Those to his left believe that he has drifted to the center to govern, and those to his right have been amazingly vocal and vitriolic about his alleged socialist leanings -- going so far as to call White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs the propaganda minister. These conservatives insist race has nothing to do with their criticism - and they were indeed also critical of Bill Clinton (another centrist who was incorrectly labeled a liberal by the right). But I can't help wonder about the race issue, and whether some people, still, have a hard time accepting a U.S. President who's black. I suspect most people look at Mr. Obama and see the President. But some, alas, still see him as a black President. And I wonder just how much of the criticism about his supposed leftist leanings is really masking something far more sinister. I'm just sayin.

Our political reporter Dave Evans is in Washington, and he'll have the hits, runs and errors, as well as reaction, tonight at 11. And a reminder, you can watch the speech on Ch. 7, at 9 p.m., with analysis afterwards with Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos.

We're also following developments in the huge Toyota recall and suspension of sales of its eight top-selling models. Accelerator problems, again. Toyota has recalled more than 6 million vehicles in the past couple of months, and now they're ordering dealers to stop selling cars. It is a huge blow for the biggest car company in the world, and the car company ranked number one in customer loyalty.

At least last year.

I suspect that moniker is now null and void.

Toyota really had no choice but to stop selling the cars with accelerator problems. It would have been breaking the law had it continued to sell the defective autos, according to ABC News' Lisa Stark. That's because federal regulations prohibit the sale of cars with a known defect - until the defect is fixed.

Also at 11, like we need another gadget in our lives. Apple today unveiling its much bally-hooed tablet to compete with Amazon's Kindle. The "Kindle Killer" is what Apple fans are dubbing it. It's a glorified iPhone, but without the phone or camera, about the size of a book, that is like a little laptop computer. It looks cool, although it's expensive. Will it do for the book publishing industry what iPod did for the music industry? Apple hopes it will.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers (in for Scott Clark) with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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