John Baer: For prez,new year, same speech

Posted: January 26, 2011

IT WAS, to borrow from Yogi Berra, a bit of deja vu all over again.

President Obama's State of the Union address last night sounded pretty much like President Obama's State of the Union address last year.

And by that I mean its gist - innovation, optimism, more jobs, spending freeze - but with more loft and less heft.

It was largely a pep talk that hit on old themes.

There was reference to gunned-down Rep. Gabrielle Giffords but nothing about making it tougher for nut jobs to get automatic weapons because, you know, that's not gonna happen.

There was reference to a new era of cooperation and to people of opposite parties sitting together. But the former is certain to be short-lived, and the latter's a grandstanding gimmick.

I mean, Pennsylvania's personality-plus senators, Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, were to sit together. How'd ya like to eavesdrop on that?

I'd rather spend time in a dentist's chair.

No, this annual pageant of politics bringing the three branches together for a festival of self-importance was the kickoff of Obama's re-election campaign.

As such we got a safe, well-

delivered message of broad vision and likable stories about just how great a country we are.

One could almost forget that we are still, as we were last year, a nation battling economic woes while waging two wildly expensive wars.

The Congressional Research Service put that cost at $1.2 trillion as of last September. I'm betting it hasn't gone down.

What we got last night was pretty much 2010 solutions, as if a year hadn't passed. And what we saw was a sea of well-dressed public servants constantly clapping like circus seals - 74 times in 62 minutes.

(But, hey, if we had their salaries and benefits, we'd probably be clapping, too.)

"We are poised for progress," the president said. "Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again."

Sounds like a recast of last year's line, "I have never been more hopeful about America's future than I am tonight."

But last night's speech looked ahead: "The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation."

Last year all he said was, "We need to encourage American innovation."

Last night he said that China and India surge in part because their education systems place "greater emphasis on math and science."

Last year he noted only that China and India are "putting more emphasis on math and science."

Last year he said we need to "put more Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow."

Last night he said, "We will put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges."

Last year he said, "We are prepared to freeze government spending for three years."

Last night he proposed freezing "annual domestic spending for the next five years."

Next year, I guess, we'll freeze it for seven.

Still, there's no question that this president is good with words. And who's against closing a tax loophole, nixing an earmark or fixing whatever needs fixing in the health-care law so we all can then "move forward?"

So Obama remains popular. Every known national poll this month shows a majority of Americans approve of how he handles the job. Daily tracking by Gallup shows the same.

In contrast, Congress' job-approval ratings are in the 20s, which is actually better than its 13 percent rating in a Gallup Poll last month.

But it strikes me that we the people are getting a lot of the same sops from Washington that all of us have heard before.

Anyone who watched last year and last night cannot miss the mirrored messages; for as Yogi Berra also said, "You can observe a lot by watching."

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/baer. Read Baer's blog at www.philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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