President Obama will give his first State of the Union speech tonight at 9 pm Eastern. I'll watch, but my expectations are extremely low. No matter how stirring the oratory is tonight, there is nothing Obama can say this evening that will erase the fact that he has now demonstrated that he is unequal to this moment in history. In fairness, perhaps no one could have been. Two wars, an economy in shambles, a body politic divided, a terrorist enemy at the gates; if ever there was a presidency that would be forged in the crucible of events, this is one, as was that of Obama's predecessor, George Bush.
Obama has not been equal to his promises. No one in their right mind expected him to do all that he promised in exactly the way that he promised. But what I think people did expect and had some right to expect was that he would be true to the spirit of his hope and change mantra. Sure, we knew there would be compromises, some deviation and we frankly expected some dissapointment because we expected the pragmatist to straightforwardly tell us "hey, this isn't doable and here's why" straightup.
But, as Mort Zuckerman bitterly and very accurately observed, Obama has revealed himself to be more ideological than pragmatic. What we have learned is that Obama practices small "p" pragmatism. That his political heart and center are not big enough to fill the space created by his oratory. He has fallen very short of the heights he called not only us to, but himself. No amount of inspired oratory tonight or any other night can or will close the gap between the stirring heights of his rhetoric and the prosaic plateau of his deeds.
That gap can only be closed by deeds and decisions more informed, wise and courageous than most that have preceded this moment. Hope and change indeed. Let us hope that Obama can change.