Halperin's Take: What Obama Achieved — and What He Didn't

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Alex Wong / Getty

President Barack Obama addresses the joint session to urge passage of his national health care plan.

Political Promise:

Effectively made the case that the status quo is unsustainable economically.

Effectively made the case that the status quo is unsustainable morally.

Reminded Republicans that they in fact agree with many elements of his health-care agenda (except for the hard parts).

Took no rhetorical line or new position that will scare off the private sector health-care industries, which have been at the table supporting reform.

Stiffened the spine of Democrats in Congress, who hold his fate in his hand.

Regained (for at least 12 hours) the rhetorical upper hand against an opposition that has no comparable megaphone.

Political Peril:

Fired his best shot, leaving him no obvious option for another galvanizing jump start — and open to the charge that he didn't say anything that will alter the terms of the debate.

Alienated liberals by paying more attention to bipartisanship (and a form of Clintonian triangulation) than to party orthodoxy.

By making an extended case for the public option, gave conservatives a chance to dig in against him.

Served up tons of rhetorical fodder for the loony right to pound him for days.

Acted more cerebral than pugilistically determined.

Political Problems Not Addressed:

How he can inflict political pain on those who try to block him.

What his deadlines are.

What his bottom lines are in terms of many major policy choices.

What the "Obama plan" is, compared to the Democratic congressional plans.

Why those skeptical of the plan's cost should trust him.

How Washington Republicans, who have staked their political success on his failure on health care, could find a face-saving way to change course and work with him — or why they would want to.