Despite a daunting economy and a challenging re-election campaign, on Tuesday night President Barack Obama displayed what Mark Twain called "the calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces" in his State of the Union address.

First was the ace of hearts. When Obama paused on his way to the podium to give retiring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords _ a shooting victim a year ago in Tucson, Ariz. _ a long hug, television cameras caught the bliss on her face as if she were receiving an embrace from a strong, adoring father.

The ace of spades is strength, and Obama exuded it even before he began speaking to Congress. As he shook hands and chatted with attendees, the president gave a special acknowledgment to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

"Leon, good job tonight," he said loudly enough for the TV audience to hear. "Good job tonight."

What Obama and Panetta knew _ and the country was to learn several hours later _was that the president had approved a daring raid by Navy SEALS that rescued two kidnapped aid workers in Somalia.

The successful helicopter attack in which an American and a Dane were freed and several gunman were killed was a reminder of another mission that this president approved, which killed Osama bin Laden.

Obama played his hand adroitly in beginning his speech by reminding his audience that under his watch, bin Laden is dead and Americans are no longer fighting in Iraq.

He used the words "America, American" or "Americans" 88 times in his 65-minute address. He declared that he would take no options off the table in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and that "our iron-clad commitment to Israel's security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history."

The ace of diamonds was his reminder that because of help from his administration, the auto industry is once again thriving, and manufacturing jobs are _ albeit slowly _ returning to the United States.

But his hole card was the ace of clubs _ the good, old boys club of Washington lobbyists working hand-in-glove with Congress to make rich people richer and leave the rest of us behind.

"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by," the president said. "Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules."

Whether Obama is holding a winning hand won't be determined until November's elections, but Tuesday night, he most definitely upped the ante on anyone running against him.

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