For One Night, a Leader Again

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There were no surprises. President Clinton stuck to the script during the 1998 State of the Union address and played to his strength: on-the-job performance. And in Congress, everyone went along.

"Can you control this crowd?" Clinton remarked audibly to Al Gore as the welcoming ovation by the audience politely droned on. The President's carefully rehearsed 72-minute speech -- Clinton's second-longest State of the Union -- drew applause 103 times. "This was absolutely what he needed," says TIME Washington deputy bureau chief J.F.O. McAllister. "He delivered the good news on the budget. He showed that he's working hard, that he cares about the soccer moms. He reminded people why they voted for him." From the floor, TIME's John Dickerson reports one sour note: Phil Gramm's too-loud applause after the President said the word "accountability." It was Gramm's way of protesting.

Trent Lott tread softly as well; in a comparatively stilted speech, the Senate Majority Leader concentrated on IRS reform, tax cuts and the war on drugs. When President Clinton heads home tonight, he should stay awake a while. It won't be like this again for some time.