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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to Continue the Obama Upswing - One idea he should embrace: a ban on extended ammo clips.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The State of the Union Address is usually among the most important and least memorable of presidential speeches. The speech itself, in an august setting, is an opportunity for a president to break through in a new way. TV and radio carry it live, and it's hard for the average citizen to avoid seeing at least a piece of it. It's a real chance for a White House to tell the American people "This is where we stand, this is why we are here, this is what we believe in."

A prediction: President Obama's speech will be unusually good. Why? Because he's showing signs of understanding that if you say something simply, clearly and sparingly, it can stick. As a rule, when Mr. Obama speaks, he literally says too many words, and they're not especially interesting words. They're dull and bureaucratic or windy and vague, too round and soft to pierce and enter your brain.

The speech takes place at the midpoint of his administration and at the beginning of what may turn out to be a Clintonesque comeback. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll notes this week that his approval rating is at 53%, up eight points since December.

A big thing the president has going for him now, and part of the reason for his improved fortunes, is that he was chastened in 2010. Americans like chastened presidents, especially ones who have acted with extreme ambition and lack of humility. Americans know their presidents have extraordinary power, and so they enjoy reminding them who's boss. In the 2010 election they did just that. But after humbling him, they will, in their fairness, give him a second look at some point. Voters also did for the president what he could not do for himself: They surgically removed Nancy Pelosi from his hip by taking away her majority and her speakership. He can now stand alone.

Here are three things he can do in the speech that would be surprising, shrewd, centrist and good policy. The first may seem small but is not. Normal people are not afraid of a lowering of discourse in political speech. They don't like it, but it's not keeping them up nights. Normal people are afraid of nuts with guns. That keeps them up nights. They know our society has grown more broken, families more sundered, our culture more degraded, and they fear it is producing more lost and disturbed young people. They fear those young people walking into a school or a mall with a semiautomatic pistol with an extended clip.

What civilian needs a pistol with a magazine that loads 33 bullets and allows you to kill that many people without even stopping to reload? No one but people with bad intent. Those clips were banned once; the president should call for reimposing the ban. The Republican Party will not go to the wall to defend extended clips. The problem is the Democratic Party, which overreached after the assassinations of the 1960s, talked about banning all handguns, and suffered a lasting political setback. Now Democrats are so spooked that they won't even move forward on small and obvious things like this. The president should seize the moment and come out strong for a ban.

Second, his words on health care should not be defiant, high-handed or intransigent. The House this week voted to repeal ObamaCare. If the bill gets to his desk, he will veto it. But shrewdness here would be in conciliation. He should sincerely—underline sincerely—offer to discuss changing those parts of the law Republicans find most objectionable.

Third, he should argue for extension of the debt limit by offering a grand bargain: In return, he will work hand in hand with Republicans to cut or limit spending that can reasonably and quickly be cut or limited. This too would win support, and respect, from centrists and others.

The great thing for the president is that expectations are low. The political class sees him making a comeback; they're eager to see and laud the speech. But again, no one expects much from a State of the Union, and the president's reputation as a giver of speeches is wildly inflated. What he says is not usually interesting. He is interesting, but what he says is usually not. In this he is like Bill Clinton.

He is a president with everything to gain from shrewd decisions, moderate thinking, and respect for the center. He seems to have learned that wanting popularity and public approval is not, actually, below him. In fact, it's part of his job.

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