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State of the Union: Why Is Obama Still Clinging to Bipartisanship?

Obama restated 2008 campaign promises that were not kept during his first year as president. It's unclear how he can make good on them in 2010 working with Republicans.

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The president's message on campaign reform was right.

But it should have been more muscular, more central to the overall statement.

The president should have made the Supreme Court's lawless decision the focus of his speech -- as part of a broader riff on what's wrong with Washington. But he didn't go for it.

And that's the bottom line. In his first State of the Union address, the president should have gone for it. But he pulled a few too many punches, sounded a little too many old themes and fell a little too short of the mark.

This was not a bad speech. Obama can't really give a bad speech.

But nor was it a game-changing address. Rather, it was the statement of a man who is not quite ready to abandon the goals or the preconceived notions with which he began his presidency. If consistency is a virtue, then this was a virtuous speech. But if consistency has its risks, especially in the face of changing circumstances, then this was a very risky speech.

Instead of rallying the base, President Obama chose to preach the gospel of bipartisanship. Instead of offering America a bold new agenda, or at least an edgier style, the president chose to recall old themes. Instead of accepting that the approaches of 2009 did not work, the president signaled that they will be repeated in 2010.

John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent.

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