And Now, the Cheerleader in Chief

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WASHINGTON — Hours before President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, a senior adviser to the president confided that his tone would be “self-consciously optimistic.” And so it was....

It was perhaps no accident that Mr. Obama took Lou Cannon’s biography of that other optimist and purveyor of American exceptionalism, Ronald Reagan, with him to Hawaii over Christmas. Or that one of the Washington wise men the president consulted recently was Kenneth M. Duberstein, a chief of staff to President Reagan.

“Optimism,” Mr. Duberstein said in an interview, “is a force multiplier.”

One axiom of politics is that the optimistic candidate wins, as Jimmy Carter discovered after his so-called “malaise” speech (he never actually used the word) during the 1979 energy crisis. He lost to Mr. Reagan a year later. And people forget that Mr. Carter, the peanut-farming Georgia governor with the toothy grin, seemed the sunnier candidate in his 1976 campaign against Gerald Ford, who used his 1975 State of the Union address to inform Americans that “the state of the union is not good.”

Still, happy talk can take a political leader only so far, and there are hazards in Mr. Obama’s sudden surge of rhetorical sunshine, especially when nearly 1 in 10 Americans is out of work, the federal deficit exceeds $1 trillion and Mr. Obama’s prescription — targeted “investment” in areas like education, clean energy and high-speed rail — requires spending of the sort that makes many Americans deeply uneasy....

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