January 29th, 2008
12:40 PM ET

Missed Opportunities

Last night on AC 360, my sense was that we were witnessing a pair of lost opportunities for George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton.
    The President could have seized upon his final State of the Union to present a vision of the America he hopes to see in the future - the America to which his years in office have been pointed.  FDR most famously did that in 1944, in his twilight year, painting a picture of a more humane and just society. Years later, LBJ made that vision an animating force for building a Great Society.  That's what great presidents do - they try to bend history by creating a vision that others pursue.   

David Gergen

David Gergen is a political contributor for Anderson Cooper 360°.

    Or Bush could have grappled seriously with our troubled economic condition, using the bully pulpit to help the country understand how we got into this mess and what it will take over time to get out.  Certainly, the evening cried out for a greater sense of economic urgency and reassurance that the White House fully appreciates and is on top of the problem.  After all, his government had just announced the biggest drop in housing starts in more than four decades; the head of the International Monetary Fund for the first time in 23 years has called for nations across the world to loosen their budgets, a sure sign of deepening concern; and the respected John Thain, new head of Merrill, has just warned that the subprime mess will spread into credit card and consumer loans.  Bush could and should have wrapped himself around this problem and conveyed a sense that the White House is absolutely determined to guide us safely through the storm. 
    Sorry, folks, we didn't get either.  Instead he marched through a long laundry list of issues, rattling them off by the numbers.  Unless I missed it, there was not a single phrase or idea that captured one's imagination.  And stylistically, it didn't hold together.  Winston Churchill famously remarked of a speech once, "Pray, take it back to the kitchen; this pudding has no theme."  Just so.  It was hardly surprising that before Anderson was half way into his show last night, his guests like Mitt Romney, John McCain and Barack Obama were looking right past the Bush speech toward Florida and Super Tuesday. 
    The other missed opportunity came from Hillary Clinton, when she pulled out of her promised interview with Anderson with no explanation from her camp.  From Saturday night through Monday night, Obama completely dominated the airwaves with his win in South Carolina and the Kennedy endorsement.  Mrs. Clinton has been virtually invisible, in effect ceding lots and lots of free air time to her rival.  She continues to hold commanding heights against him in California, New York, etc., but she can't be sure he will remain far behind if he gets up a head up steam.  That's why it seemed so clear that she would come onto last night's show and change the conversation away from S.C. and Kennedy.  She could have done that by going full blast after the Bush economic performance - this is a subject she knows extremely well, better it seems than Obama, and she could have thrust herself forward as the person best suited to protect Americans hard-pressed to pay their bills. 
    We will see what today brings from her - she could yet issue a full-throated assault on Bushonomics and put forward her own plans.  But if the best she musters is a fly-in to Florida tonight after the voting, for a celebration the press will tend to scoff at, she will leave yet another day open to Obama's forward charge. 
    As Anderson would say, what are they thinking? 

– David Gergen, 360° Contributor

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