President Obama delivers his first State of the Union speech tonight to a wary nation. He must reconnect with voters who elected him less than 15 months ago on the promise that he would fix the economy, heal Washington's partisan divide and reject the back-room deal-making that prevails on Capitol Hill.
On the first promise, he has made some progress. The economy has yet to recover its footing, but Mr. Obama's efforts stopped the slide and fended off an even worse recession. In pushing through a stimulus package and keeping the auto industry alive, the president moved swiftly and boldly, fulfilling the promise of leadership.
But when it came to an overhaul of the healthcare system, he faltered badly. He delegated too much control to Democratic pols in Congress, who presided over a messy debate that resembled a bargaining session in a Third World bazaar more than a law-making procedure that will affect one-sixth of the nation's economy. Some of this sausage-making is inevitable, but Mr. Obama can be faulted for not being engaged, allowing "death panels" and other phony issues to get traction.
Inevitable, too, is partisanship. Too many Republicans in Congress seem to represent a knee-jerk "rejectionist front." But Mr. Obama could have helped his own cause by making some concessions to the GOP, such as including tort reform in the health care overhaul.
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