When the statement drew hearty mock applause from Republicans in the chamber, Obama responded:
So no, the president did not appear chastened or rebuked by the results of the midterms. To the contrary, last night’s little moment could be said to epitomize his presidency. Faced with implacable knee-jerk Republican hatred and opposition, Obama once again turned it to his advantage.
“Rather than acknowledge the new Republican majorities, and try to find common ground, the president insisted on policies he knows the GOP will never accept. …
Why? I think it’s because this president’s number one priority is always to appear unbowed. He must imitate Jake LaMotta taunting Sugar Ray Robinson at the end of Raging Bull: “You never knocked me down, Ray!”
Last night’s speech was a continuation of the tone that Obama set immediately after the midterms, when pundits and politicians of both parties were insisting that given the scale of the Democratic defeat, Obama would have to back down from his plan to take executive action on immigration. Mitch McConnell warned that carrying through on that promise would be “like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
Instead, “You never knocked me down, Ray!!”
Those who know Obama say that he plays the long game, that he always seems confident that doing the smart thing will pay off in time if not immediately. Four years ago, the person who knows him best described it well:
“Here’s the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.
And in those moments when we’re all sweating it, when we’re worried that the bill won’t pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we’re playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow—it doesn’t happen overnight.
If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.”
These days he seems to sense that things are finally turning his way, and more importantly turning the nation’s way. The polls say so. The economy says so too, as he reminded the nation last night:
“At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years.”
As Ezra Klein noted at Vox, “Imagine if Mitt Romney was giving the State of the Union address amidst these economic numbers. The cheering wouldn’t stop long enough to let him speak.”
But of course, it wasn’t Romney at that podium, it was Obama. And he clearly intends to make the most of the two years left in office.