State of the Union speech: President Obama, as Harry Houdini

With the State of the Union speech in the immediate offing, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg compares President Obama to Harry Houdini.

On Wednesday Obama “faces his first State of the Union address Wednesday night, a locked trunk if ever there was one: The biggest effort of his first year in office—health care reform—is in peril of failing completely. His Republican opponents are mobilized and gleeful. The nation faces problems in every direction you look.

Delivering a speech in clutch situations is what Obama does best. He burst into prominence in 2004 with an electric keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. When his association with the divisive and doddering Rev. Jeremiah Wright threatened to hamstring his candidacy, Obama unspooled a memorable speech on race. …

I’m torn between being excited to see how he pulls this one off, and dreading the possibility that this time the stunt will be beyond his abilities—the feeling, I assume, that all those vaudeville patrons felt when they went to see Harry Houdini escape. Will he emerge from behind the spangled cloth, holding the unlocked manacles high above his head, beaming and wet and triumphant? Or will the disaster that he has been courting for so long finally catch up with him? We’ll find out Wednesday night.

Likely the result of the speech will be less cut-and-dried than, “Did he escape the trunk or didn’t he?” Still, this is a pretty good framing of the situation.

Though Steinberg might have pointed out, we’re all in this trunk together.

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