Obama's Message: Don't Mistake My Spockiness for Weakness

The new cover of NEWSWEEK is explicit in its diagnosis of the president's problems: it describes "The Inspiration Gap." For all the hand-wringing about how style matters more than substance, style is a critical element of democratic leadership. (George Washington was revered in his day not least because he was the tallest man on the scene.) My sense is that Obama realized his professorial demeanor was not getting the job done, so the president who spoke to Congress was the Obama who does not mind using irony and sarcasm in service of a point. "That's how budgeting works," he virtually muttered at a GOP caucus that was clearly unhappy his freeze was for 2011, not 2010. Promising more meetings with the Republicans, he added, in effect: I know you're looking forward to that.

The sharper tone was at once playful and intense. The message: don't mistake my Spockiness for weakness. And the message should have been received.