If one speech can replenish a presidency—and I'm not sure it can—Barack Obama's State of the Union address was just such a speech. In tone and content it was aimed squarely at the fickle voters he has lost since last year: the swing-voting independents in the middle of the spectrum.
The president seized the center by stressing some conservative-sounding proposals; by lamenting the current corroded state of the political process; and by deploying a tone of sweet, sometimes even rueful reasonableness (even as he was deftly sticking the shiv into his Republican foes).
As a piece of politics, it was nothing short of masterful.
Sure, the president said he would let George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich lapse, and he talked up some new (though modest) job-creating spending programs. But his economic proposals had more than a whiff of Reaganism in them, stressing as they did tax cuts, tax credits, rebates, and the like. He even touted the possibilities of off-shore drilling and nuclear power.
And sure, his proposed spending freeze is more flashy than fiscally powerful—it would exempt much more than it would include—but Obama ventured boldly onto GOP turf by promising to tackle the debt head on, and by reminding voters that it was W. who started the avalanche.
But perhaps his strongest bid for independent votes was in his philosophical tone about the failings of Washington: the rampant partisanship (which of course he is somewhat responsible for); the lack of openness (he promised to do more); the need to further rein in lobbyists (even though his minions have been trucking with them). He took blame, conceded error, and extended a hand with a smile on his face.
All of that—that sweet-seeming reasonableness and calm working through of issues in search of bipartisan answers—will be music to the ears of the unaffiliated.
Now all the president has to do is deliver on the hope he has now revived: that he can change both the way Washington works, and what Washington in fact decides.