My fellow Ameri-cans, the state of the union is angry. Also strong. Presidents usually say the state of the union is strong.
But this year you would have to go with strongly angry.
In his speech Wednesday night, President Barack Obama actually dropped that traditional state-of- the-union-is rhetoric completely in honor of the new irascibility. "We all hated the bank bailout," he said in one of his first big applause lines.
Yes, the one good thing you can say about our highest elected officials is that they are ticked off at so many people that sooner or later they've got to climb up on some common ground. The House hates the Senate. The liberal Democrats hate the moderate Democrats. The normal conservative Republicans hate the hyper Tea Party-types. The Tea Party-ists are having so many internal fights that there's a definite danger of broken crockery.
And, of course, everybody hates the bankers, except the Republicans who sat on their hands when the president called for taxing them.
Obama does not really do angry. Peeved, yes. He looked pretty peeved when he was being interviewed by Diane Sawyer of ABC News the other night. If he can't manage mellow with Diane Sawyer, what's he going to do at today's scheduled a meeting with the House Republicans?
Have you ever seen all the House Republicans in one place? It's like a herd of rabid otters.
Looking out at the motley crew seated before him for the big speech, the president seemed at times to be pretending that he had never seen these people before in his life. "Washington has been telling us to wait for decades," he complained at one point, as if he was a visitor from the heartland with a petition that he wanted to deliver if only he could get an appointment with someone on the appropriations committee.
Obama Year One began with euphoria. At the start of Year Two, crankiness rules. The House Democrats jumped up in triumph whenever the president dissed the Senate for holding things up. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- has Harry Reid had a single sunny moment in the last year? -- got caught yawning by the cameras.
Observers claimed that Justice Samuel Alito shook his head and mouthed "not true" when the president laced into the Supreme Court for opening up the floodgates to corporate campaign contributions.
Justice John Paul Stevens, who hated that decision more than anyone, was absent for the speech. There are rumors that he's planning to retire.
Can you imagine how Congress is going to behave if Obama has to try to name a successor? There isn't a single jurist in the United States who doesn't hold some opinion that 41 members of the Senate would find outrageous. Maybe they can locate a nice 50-year-old lawyer who was plunged into a coma on the day he or she passed the bar, and emerged only last week.
On Wednesday, the things that seemed to elicit the most bipartisan reactions were: hope (standing ovation), cutting the capital gains tax for small businesses (ditto) and Obama's plan for deficit control, which caused a cold breeze to blow from both the Republican and Democratic camps.
Democrats hate the proposed freeze on discretionary spending because they like discretionary spending. Republicans say it's too little too late, and besides it's their issue. Hands off.
While the reaction certainly suggested this idea is a goner, it's likely that Obama's most conservative proposals are still the ones with the best odds of survival. The last few presidents had their best -- and often only -- luck getting big domestic bills passed when they were the other party's programs. Bill Clinton got welfare reform. George W. Bush got No Child Left Behind and the Medicare drug plan. Both of those were basically Democratic ideas, although Bush added his own personal twist of not paying for them.
But Obama insisted he was going to hang in there and fight the good fight for health care reform and energy and -- good for him -- getting rid of the military's don't-ask-don't-tell rule. Plus, he urged Congress to reform itself and regulate lobbyists and campaign donations. (Silence ruled.) He also threw in a call for earmark reform. Although those porky earmarks are certainly an undesirable thing, ever since John McCain's presidential campaign I have regarded calls for their reform as a small sign of desperation. On Wednesday, earmark reform got more time than immigration reform.
Obama has been saying that he'd rather be "a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president." Being a good one-term president probably sounds great to him right now. Run the Obama Foundation and never have to deal with Joe Lieberman again.
But he's definitely going for the double. For one thing, there is no such thing as a really good president who walked away after one term. James Polk? Barack Obama did not leave Hawaii to wind up remembered as the James Polk of the 21st century.
THE NEW YORK TIMES