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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Obama’s Quest to Renew His Administration

In his first State of the Union address President Obama attempted to regain the momentum of his Presidency and get his agenda back on track.

With deliberate seriousness, pragmatic humility, and an upbeat air, the President spoke of American resiliency, reasserting his leadership and his goals. 

He opened by framing the current crisis as part of a timeline of American adversity, from the Revolution to the Depression to WWII, declaring this moment in a long-line of challenging opportunities for Americans.  He painted a scene of the current socio-economic landscape marred by unprecedented financial crises, historic unemployment, legislative stalemates, lingering conflicts abroad, a general air of distrust in government, and growing national partisanship.

To his credit the President took ownership of the situation – from the economic crisis to pending legislation to international affairs – the President accepted responsibility for the past year, and for the success or failure of the year to come. His speech set forth a clear path moving forward.  He offered the perspective one only obtains taking hits at the helm, and learning from experience. 

He publicly conceded political missteps and miscalculations, all but acknowledging a complete bungling of healthcare.  But, he simultaneously reasserted his fierce commitment to reforming the currently defunct system, vowing to do so more pragmatically and with the support of both parties.

He displayed the confidence to compensate for legislative miscalculations and economic misreading by now focusing primarily on job creation, the economy, and small business growth incentives.

He took ownership of the economy.  Rightfully contextualizing the current state of affairs by laying partial blame on the previous administration and a short-termist mentality on Wall Street, the President then shunned those shortcomings and stepped forward to make the economy, and its eventual recovery, entirely his. 

He outlined plans for the future in a way that was appropriately wonk-ish and “everyman.”  Not everyone liked every proposal.  But everyone could understand every proposal.

This speech was his opportunity for the President to clear the air, press the rest button, and start anew.  He is doing so with a passionate resolve and still-ambitious agenda. It remains to be seen whether the President will move his agenda more to the political center in order to get legislation passed, or whether he will continue to up the populist rhetoric of recent days. Let’s hope it is the former.