Ever since September, I have been waiting for Obama to compliment his proscriptions for the economic crisis with a description of it: Why exactly are we in this mess? To sell your solutions, you need to provide a compelling account of the problems that you’re solving. This is not an easy crisis to explain—and populism, an obvious way for talking about things, isn’t Obama’s natural vernacular.
I thought Obama did a slightly better job tonight with this. He provided a fairly accessible explication of the credit crisis, although he still undersold the extent to which our biggest banks are screwed. And there were the beginning of a broader, deeper explanation: We’re in this mess because we made selfish, shortsighted decisions. We failed to make the right long-term investments; we let the market run wild; therefore, we need to make those investments and build a robust regulatory system, so we don’t repeat this debacle. That’s a pretty compelling rhetorical frame, not to mention true. But Obama still has more work to do here. And I fear he’s not going to get congress to cough up the money he needs, especially for the banks, unless he does more to advance a narrative.
Unlike Jon Cohn, I thought that he did a boffo job with tone. The optimism was there in a credible dose and dressed in patriotism. Above all, he sounds like a guy in charge, which is inherently reassuring.
One aside: When the cameras kept flashing to McCain, I wondered about the speech he would have given tonight. And that, too, made me feel good about Obama's address.