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President very clear in speech

As speech-making goes, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night was impressive. He was passionate, his cadence was masterful, his humor was effective and his message was unvarnished. He touched on the themes Americans understand as foundational to the nation’s success. He extended a hand of cooperation to Congress but said he will use his executive power to advance his agenda if Republicans were not interested in working with him.

Of course, not everyone need agree with the content of the speech, no matter how good it was as oratory. There is plenty with which to disagree, although it is obvious that disagreement with the president often has more to do with the enmity his political opponents feel toward him, not necessarily with the substance of his policy priorities. After all, what was the president supposed to think when the Republican leader of the Senate said a few years ago that his goal was to make sure the president was not re-elected and, having failed in that purpose, to undermine everything the president attempts in his second term. That is not a recipe for cooperation on any level.

Reaction to the speech was predictable. For example, freshman Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., apparently couldn’t find a single thing in the hour-long speech he liked. He trotted out the boilerplate that if the Obama administration did things like North Dakota does, everything would be peachy keen. What nonsense. No one state — certainly not North Dakota, which is not at all representative of the nation’s population — can be a template for a vast, diverse and complicated nation.

While the political class tends to choose up sides and take potshots from right and left fortresses, most Americans want government to work; most want compromise. Most of them want their president to succeed. The president said he wants to cooperate with the opposition, but his conduct has been as partisan as any president in recent history. His intention to reach out has to be done with the understanding that he, too, cannot get everything he wants.

The State of the Union address struck a mixed tone. It was conciliatory and combative. It was presidential in that Obama was unambiguous about his willingness to use executive power. It was substantive in that the president cited numbers that confirm the economy has emerged from the Great Recession. A good speech.

The test, however, will be whether in the next three years the president and Congress can come together on the big issues facing the nation. On that score, a single speech is unlikely to make a difference.