One year had taken him from a self-professed unifier to a historically divisive president; from the man selected to solve the country’s problems to the person often disparaged as their cause. He squinted against the lights and stared hard at the audience for his first State of the Union address, looking a little grayer, a little older than when he assessed the country in the same venue last February. A circus of cameras and power brokers stirred around him, yet he stood alone at a single microphone, quieting the crowd with a series of somber nods.
It had been, Obama told the audience, “one of the most difficult years in our history” — and it had been one of his most difficult years, too.
The president had plenty of reasons to be frustrated Wednesday night, and he channeled all of them during his 71 minutes at the podium. The poker player so often lauded for his evenness was instead pleading and persistent, frank and angry. His words as much as his body language suggested a shift, that this was the time not only to address the populist aggravation but to make it his own. He pressed his forefinger against his thumb and made jabs at the air to accentuate his points. He told the crowd that he “hated” the bank bailout, that he wanted the government to match the public’s “decency,” that he was tired of “the numbing weight of our politics.”
“How long should we wait?” he asked. “How long should America put its future on hold?”