DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH is supposed to have told his biographer that the bombastic triumphalism of the last movement of his Fifth Symphony, which Stalin compelled him to write, was actually a parody: "It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, 'Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing.'"
I thought of this (probably apocryphal) story Tuesday as Barack Obama strained to project an image of pragmatic, bipartisan optimism in his state-of-the-union address. Given how frustrating the past year has been for Mr Obama, one might have expected him to mount the podium and vow eternal vengeance on the Republican party, cursing its leadership to the deepest circles of hell. But nobody rewards a president for pouring out his indignation upon the opposition. The American people want sunny confidence from their leaders, and Mr Obama's calm demeanor is one of the reasons his popularity ratings aren't lower than they are, after a year in which Republicans have...Continue reading