By Ruy Teixeira
One of President Barack Obama’s remarkable qualities is how well he reads the public. And his speech to Congress last Tuesday night showed that.
Obama has been accused of being too somber and perhaps too candid about the difficulties facing the country. But the public is so convinced—and rightly so—that we are in a very difficult situation that any attempt to sugarcoat the current economic realities would sound fake. In fact, that’s the kind of tired rhetoric they’re used to hearing from politicians.
Obama, in contrast, tells them what they already believe to be true: We’re in the soup and won’t get out of it anytime soon. But, he adds, if we work hard, are responsible, and take the right steps, we can overcome these problems and make America a better place. That’s the hope part, which the public appreciates, but wouldn’t take seriously without the very somberness for which Obama has been criticized. People want to be hopeful but not naïve and Obama provides a way for them to be exactly that.
How is Obama’s approach going over with the public? Very well. Before this week’s speech, over three quarters of the public said they were optimistic about the next four years with Obama, and the same number said he is trying to bring real change to Washington.
And how did the public react to the speech, which eloquently made the somber but hopeful case? According to a CBS News poll, 80 percent of speechwatchers now approve of Obama’s plan for dealing with the economic crisis, up from 63 percent before the speech.
Similarly, in a CNN poll of speechwatchers, 85 percent said Obama’s speech made them more optimistic about the direction the country is taking, and 82 percent said they supported the economic plan he presented in the speech.
That’s Obama. Somber, earnest, and effective. He’s giving Americans hope because they believe he takes change and problem solving seriously. How refreshing.
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