- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ANALYSIS:

After weeks of dire warnings about looming economic catastrophe, President Obama sought to become rallier in chief Tuesday night, offering a hopeful message of brighter days ahead while being honest about the challenges confronting the nation.

Mr. Obama, who last year as a senator mocked President Bush’s final State of the Union message as “empty rhetoric” and asked voters to imagine having a leader “who rallied all Americans around a common purpose,” endeavored to do just that.

Beset by worldwide economic turmoil and top-level criticism from former President Bill Clinton that he’s been too pessimistic, Mr. Obama tried to allay public fears. He used his oratory skills in a format that’s served him best throughout his political rise: the prepared speech, in a grand setting, that allows him to transcend the media filter and talk directly to Americans.

Taking a shot at the Bush administration and the culture that cultivated the crisis, he told the joint session of Congress and a prime-time television audience that his administration would turn the page on an era that he said delayed critical debates and difficult decisions.

“That day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here,” he said.

He mixed in inspirational phrases as a signal that he would remain the hopeful man whom the nation elected.

“As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us - watching to see what we do with this moment, waiting for us to lead,” the president said.

He added later that he has learned “hope is found in unlikely places,” including in “the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.”

The speech was a critical moment in Mr. Obama’s “evolution” from candidate to president, said Simon Rosenberg of liberal think tank NDN.

Mr. Rosenberg, who worked in the Clinton White House, said before the speech that the night was an opportunity for Mr. Obama to detail point by point how he will lead them during a time of crisis.

“The American people are willing to give him time, but he needs to make sure they walk away with a clear sense of what he wants to do for them and that they think that it’s actually possible for him to pull it off,” Mr. Rosenberg said.

Mr. Obama delivered some details, including comments sure to rile conservative critics.

Mr. Obama said he pushed the $787 billion economic-stimulus plan “not because I believe in bigger government” and insisted that he is “mindful” of the “massive debt we’ve inherited.” But he then ticked off government programs that he would grow from a broad investment in health care expansion, new energy technology research and school reform.

He did so while offering both practical and psychological assurances that his three-pronged plan for fiscal health - economic stimulus, housing, and banking and Wall Street reform - will pull the nation from recession.

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