Seventy seven days ago, Barack Obama's party lost control of Congress -- largely due to his unpopularity nationwide. You'd have never known it watching the president deliver his sixth State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.
From start to finish, Obama was supremely confident, challenging -- and mocking -- Republicans at every turn. Touting the turnaround of the economy, Obama turned to Republicans, who, in classic State of the Union symbolism, had refused to deliver a standing ovation, and joked "That's good news, people." On Cuba, Obama challenged those who disagreed with his Administration policies; "When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new," he said.
But more than the words on the page, it was Obama's tone and overall demeanor that absolutely oozed confidence. He winked. He laughed at his own jokes. And he ad-libbed. Repeating his "I've run my last campaign" line, Obama was clearly irked by the sarcastic applause from Republicans in the audience. "I know because I won both of them," he added, in a rare moment of candor.
Obama is quite clearly feeling a renewed sense of purpose and mission -- bolstered by the strengthening economy and poll numbers that reflect that growing confidence from the American public. This was the same Obama on display in his end-of-the-year press conference. Supremely confident in his own views, largely dismissive of his Republican critics.
And yet, at times, Obama's confidence threatened to derail his "we are better than the current state of our politics" message, which dominated the second half of the speech. There was a clear cognitive dissonance between Obama's paean to disagree without being disagreeable and his "I won 'em both" moment. It was his idealism for a better politics clashing with the cynicism that has crept in around it over the past six years.
How the speech will play depends almost entirely on how you viewed Obama going into it. For his allies and even many liberals who had grown sour on him, it was a triumphant speech in which both his own soaring confidence and his dismissal of his political rivals was fitting and appropriate. For his detractors, the speech was everything they loathe about him: cocky, combative and forever campaigning.
Regardless of where you land on that confident-to-cocky spectrum, one thing was very clear tonight: Obama isn't planning to go quietly over his final two years in office. Not quietly at all.