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Obama's State of the Union address: Ending with contrition and a call for faith

Obama4 Every Borscht Belt comedian knows that it is best to leave an audience with a zinger that will always be remembered. President Obama, in his best speeches on race and on winning the presidency, did that.

In his State of the Union address, Obama returned to one of his favorite themes: the need for faith to overcome reality, which can easily turn as cynical as milk left out in the sun.

“Too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions -- our corporations, our media, and yes, our government” are losing the ability to function well, the president said.

“Each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away,” Obama said.

“No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there,” he said. “No wonder there’s so much disappointment.”

Obama noted that he was the change candidate, and took a sober look at his campaign slogan.

“I campaigned on the promise of change -- change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change -- or at least, that I can deliver it,” he said. 


But necessity is still the mother of invention, and for Obama, the lack of action is a poor substitute. And a politics based on popularity is a weak system indeed.

“Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation,” he cautioned. He conceded his mistakes and pledged to do more.

“Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved,” Obama said, in a note of contrition.

Then he turned to the future and the possibility of success, the point of an upbeat ending.

“We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment -- to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.”

-- Michael Muskal
 Twitter.com/LATimesmuskal

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US President Barack Obama (bottom) receives applause before delivering the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill, with US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (R) seen behind, in Washington DC, USA, 27 January 2010. The State of the Union address comes one year and one week after Obama took office. President Obama is speaking on a wide variety of issues such as the federal deficit, unemployment, health insurance reform, campaign contributions and foreign policy. EPA/ALLISON SHELLEY

 
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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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