Mr. Obama speaks to the congress and the nation in a few hours about the State of our Union. The facts are well known. We are deep in sovereign debt with a sick economy, and – in spite of the apologies coming from the White house, or perhaps because of them, the US has fewer willing friends and allies than under then former administration.

The real questions for those of us who watch the speech include these three —

“Where do we go from here?”
“What has our president learned?”
“What will he do differently?”

Looking for Obama 5.0

In an article posted August 9, 2008, I asked, Who is Obama? LINK: < >. I then sketched several competing versions and indicated that, at that moment, we just can’t be sure who our nation’s leader really is.

Since that day in 2008 when I asked myself that question, Mr. Obama has learned not to trust his future to a certain San Francisco congresswoman, and has begun to come to terms with the new House leadership and a more centrist Senate.

I am certain that he and we are feeling the cumulative weight of the three trillion dollar fiscal crater into which the attempts to borrow our way through the current deep, deep recession have consigned us.

And for better or for worse, many of Mr. Obama’s key advisors have left his administration.

As he prepares to deliver his second “State of the Union” address to the assembled Congress, here are the four competing versions of Mr. Obama, as they appeared in my 2008 piece.

Obama 1.0

The decent liberal-minded young man, with some moderate instincts: This is the character that fate has surrounded – it appears – with naive, left-minded aadvisors, who currently have his ear.

Obama 2.0 – The ambitious, narcissistic chameleon…

Obama 3.0 – The closet arch-leftist…

Obama 4.0 – The political lightweight…

Then I asked –

“Just how much on-the-job growth can we reasonably expect of this president? Jimmie Carter clung to his received wisdom with a stubborn righteousness bordering on folly. JFK was chagrined by his mistakes, learned from them and regained his balance. Harry Truman, having been ill prepared by FDR, was thrust into a series of grave crises, but drew on his tough prairie character, his keen instincts for negotiations, a humble awe for the magnitude of the office he had not sought, and became the tough, indefatigable student who grew stronger and smarter with each challenge.”

I concluded with the suggestion that “our best hope resides in the emergence of Obama 5.0 or 6.0”

Obama 5.0

The humble, adaptable patriot: This is a conscientious leader, not obsessed with his image, willing to live with his mistakes, eager to learn from them, actually and actively seeking out and listening to and actively considering advice outside his ideological and social circle.

Obama 6.0

The neo-populist chameleon, pledged to build the successful American that most voters want on the terms that most voters expect: This is a political survivor with a deep respect for the populist currents now afoot, willing to break with the elites in both parties as necessary to restore American as a preeminent world economic and military power.

And I concluded with this thought –

“Because this president’s surface image is tightly managed, nothing authentic has leaked out that would suggest that there is any serious internal policy debate, let alone presidential soul searching, nothing in other words, that offers any hope in a significant change of direction.”

Chastened or Just Chaste?

When Mr. Obama ran for the office he now holds, his relevant experience – especially as an executive – was weaker than anyone who had held the presidency in the 20th or 21st centuries. See my piece, in which I explored the executive experience of every president during that period. The result ranked Mr. Obama – using objective criteria – at the bottom of the five weakest POTUS resumes of modern times.

Things have changed. By virtue of serving in office and – to be sure, making mistakes – Mr. Obama is now well qualified in terms of executive experience to hold the position of POTUS. [He started with less experience than a part-term Alaska governor, and ends the period with more experience than Bill Clinton had when he was first elected.]

Hopefully, this president is wiser for his hard won experience, especially from his worst lapse. It was a function of inexperience, lack of connections and weak staff support: The new president, eager to make his mark while he had the votes, left the remake of the entire US health care system to the democrats in Congress – and their hyper partisan’ left leaning staff – all with only limited professorial guidance from the White House.

This was not unlike the naïve homeowner, who trusts all the details of a major remodel to a contractor recommended by a deceased aunt. At the end of the day, almost no one, including the president, had even read the entire bill. It was a train wreck of epic proportions and led to the forced retirement of hundreds of democrats.

But something good comes from every mistake. Like Bill Clinton after the congress changed hands, Mr. Obama may benefit from opposition pressure, especially if it drives policy to the center.

Americans now want to hear a more conciliatory tone this evening from their President, but they expect this president to behave as a centrist who can get things done, not to fail or make thing worse as an unreconstructed quixotic leftist.

I can report for many silent democrats close to the situation who are gravely worried about this presidency and its possible long term damage to their party.

Americans are hoping that the man they thought they were voting for is back – Obama 1.0, the decent liberal-minded young man, with moderate instincts, this time with better advisors.

Americans are hoping for Obama 5.0 to emerge, the humble, adaptable patriot, a conscientious leader, no longer obsessed with his image, willing to live with his mistakes, eager to learn from them, actually and actively seeking out and listening to and actively considering advice outside his ideological and social circle.

By now the country has been made aware of the grim reality. Most Americans grasp the immense scale of federal indebtedness, and most are pre-reconciled to strong measures to bring the country’s balance sheet into the black.

We have just been reminded that Americans are beginning to spend again for goods and services. See . Some perspective is in order. Our aggregate personal discretionary spending hovers at roughly ½ trillion, while the increase in US federal indebtedness over the last two years was 3 trillion.

Background –

Mr. Obama’s deficit commission has produced a starting point for a difficult discussion and an even more difficult implementation. Most of the country is keenly aware of the trap we’re in: Raising taxes in any significant way will risk aborting any recovery. Not raising taxes will require even more dramatic cuts in the federal budget. The stark reality is that borrowing about 40% of everything this government spends will not buy a recovery, but it eventually will hasten monetary collapse.

Americans are skeptical about grandiose promises. The president’s speech cannot do more than signal an attitude and a direction. The pre-spin is that he intends to present himself as “more centrist.”

What I am looking for:

Specific, clear statements that will generate accountability;
Authentic openness to authentically new approaches;
The response by Congressman Ryan from Wisconsin, a truth-teller with economics training. His contribution will not be the ordinary partisan exercise. Ryan, who has been praised by David Brooks and even favorably acknowledged by Mr. Obama, is a truth-teller. That the GOP establishment has selected him to respond to the State of the Union is a measure of our desperate times.

Even a great pudding recipe requires a cook.


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