WASHINGTON - It wasn't Kumbaya, it was more. We have finally witnessed it: a "Love Train" Moment in the capital.
The president almost made John Boehner cry by praising him as a working class hero. That was to be expected. But in his tour-de-force of good fellowship Tuesday night, Barack Obama went further.
For an hour or so, he shrewdly (and in his own interest) ended the anger of our politics, even though he had been a full-throated participant in some of its mayhem minutes in the last two years.
Instead, when he was done delivering his feel-good, oh-so-sensible and sotto voce State of the Union address, I expected the sound system in the House to begin blasting the O'Jays' classic--and to see the members dancing in a conga line in the aisles, Coors Light in hand.
Early polls showed that the speech was one of the most well-received he has ever given.
Allow me to switch metaphors. Obama is a boxing fan. So he knows that he did a clinch tonight. He's been losing on points, so he draped himself all over his foe mid-ring. That way, the president gathered strength while preventing his fresher opponent from getting any punching distance.
How did the president do this? Well, he capitalized on the obvious opportunity in the aftermath of Tucson to call for peace.
He honored the rise of a Republican-led House by delivering the most pro-business speech a Democrat has given, since, well, that a Democrat has given.
If the measure of success is the number of times he forced Speaker of the House Boehner to clap, the speech was a raging winner.
The president talked up the tax cut deal, talked up the one-year expensing of depreciable assets, vowed to veto any bill with earmarks, talked about cutting corporate tax rates, talked about streamlining government, even talked up medical malpractice reform.
After about three quarters of an hour of that kind of thing, Speaker Boehner looked like a man in need of a Marlboro and nice Chianti. He seemed like he was looking at Eric Cantor for permission to clap - but then he reluctantly concluded that he had to even without permission.
And this is only a few months after Obama stood toe-to-toe across Lafayette Park against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The two sides did everything but call each other commies and fascists.
The president used other techniques to engineer his "Love Train" moment.
One of them was to praise the unarguably praiseworthy: soldiers, of course, who got the longest standing O. But also teachers (standing O) and even science fairs! A standing O for science fairs! Who would sit glumly in his seat and not cheer for science fairs?
He did it by avoiding almost any divisive social topic. No mention of gun control or abortion, very little on immigration or religious freedom. He cleverly coupled praise for the end of "don't ask, don't tell" with a demand that colleges open up their gates to the military recruiters and the ROTC. That produced the remarkable sight of anti-war Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont giving a standing O to...military recruiters and the ROTC!
The president proposed only the most benign and difficult-to-oppose spending initiatives--for research, education and infrastructure--and coupled them with a proposal for a five-year spending freeze he claimed would save $400 billion over ten years.
Of course, that's not nearly enough to impress the Republicans, let alone the Tea Party, but that was not the audience the president addressed. He was speaking to moderates and independent voters, and now the battle will be on to convince them of his prudence. A tough sell, but one Obama will now try.
And he cleverly laid down economic-development goals--targets for electric cars, clean-energy use, new teachers and test proficiency--that won't have to be met until a second term, if he gets one.
He angered the AARP--sort of--by bringing up the topic of Social Security in the context of a discussion about cutting the deficit. But he laid down enough stringent conditions about his principles for protecting the program that he probably allayed most fears.
The bottom line is that, for an hour or so, the noise and accusatory tumult of our argumentative culture was totally gone. No one shouted "you lie!" No one said "Nooo!" No one jumped up in an aggressive effort to show up or challenge anyone else. It was as though talk radio did not exist, and both MoveOn and the Tea Party had disappeared.
Which of course they had not.
But in the meantime, let's party like it's 1973! As the O'Jays would say:
People all around the world (everybody)
Join hands (join)
Start a love train, love train...