The president's pre-budget speech last night, and all its accompanying pomp and ceremony, was one of the most brilliant pieces of political theater I've ever seen, and I imagine it effectively reassured a great majority of those who watched. He paid no more attention to detail than Tim Geithner did in his speech last week, but Obama's delivery is so much better. Significant change already is happening, he told us, and there is more to come -- soon.
Most of it was a rehash of his standard proposals, sometimes with fewer details than in previous policy speeches: reform health care, cap and trade carbon, alternative energy, education reform etc. He chastised Wall Street bankers, of course. He criticized the inaction of government in the past, particularly in the field of regulation -- and although he made a point of noting that there were failures by both parties, most people, I'm sure, heard "Bush administration."
So now we'll wait and see what actually happens.
(By the way, if Bobby Jindal had any hope of using his delivery of the "Republican response" as a springboard to the presidential nomination in 2011, I think his hopes were misplaced. Jindal's smiley presentation reminded me of a happy marionette in a poorly scripted puppet show, his repudiation of Bush-era policies and non-threatening ethnic charm notwithstanding.)
Did the Obama speech bring us a little closer to nationalizing some banks? I thought I heard a hint or two. Citi, apparently, has concluded its time is near. Rather than submit to a "stress test," it's just admitting it's as good as dead and waiting to see what the administration's response will be.
It occurs to me that Vikram Pandit decided to get Citigroup out ahead of the herd, hoping to force government action before the political momentum for full nationalization gathers more strength. If that's the case, Obama and Co. may have to be a bit ballsier that they've been to date.