Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama's State of the Union: A Very Good Speech That Won't Change Anything

I watched President Obama's first State of the Union speech last night with one eye open and a sense of dread.

The one-eye bit was because these speeches are seldom noteworthy and despite Obama's
oratorical skills, yet again brilliantly on display, this one ran true to form. The dread stemmed from my belief that the crisis atmosphere that pervades his administration one year on is grounded not in substance but in message, and while this bloodied warrior was correct to take responsibility for aspects of the crisis he should not take the blame.

I suppose I needed not worry, because that's pretty much as things played out with nary an outburst from Joe Wilson, although he and his Republican colleagues were stonily silent when Obama proffered one of the GOP's perennial faves -- tax cuts. Do we live in a great time, or what?

My big sum-up is that while it was a very good speech, in turn scolding and reassuring, and overnight poll numbers were hugely positive for the president, it won't change anything.

Here's what some other pundits had to say:

Josh Green at The Atlantic:
Tax incentives, small-business veneration, glorification of the entrepreneur, chest-thumping on competition, and even a bit of nationalism. Obama articulates Republican policies better than Republicans do. Doesn't look sour and mean, or like he wants to bite somebody.
Mark Levin at the National Review:
I have watched many, many State of the Union speeches. This is the most partisan, least presidential of them all. His rhetoric, his glances at the GOP side, and his almost mocking tone at times — not to mention his over-the-top dissembling about the deficit, among other things — will not, I predict, improve his position with the public. Nor should it.
Ezra Klein on Twitter:
This health-care section is good. Obama is smart to admit that people are skeptical and to blame it on process and bad communication.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:
That's it for healthcare. Seemed a little bloodless to me. Didn't really explain his plan very well, and never stood up for anything more specific than "Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people." I was hoping for more, but maybe I expect too much.
Robert Stein at Connecting the Dots:
The unusual tone of this State of the Union came from both directions. Below each outburst of applause, there was an unprecedented hum of disapproval from stony GOP faces.
Yuval Levin at the National Review:
[The speech] won’t make much of a difference either way—and it wouldn’t have even if it had been a much better or a much worse speech. But it’s interesting as an indication of where the administration’s thinking is at the moment. It really didn’t suggest the sharp pivot everyone has thought was coming: he was very defensive of everything he has done all year. But it also didn’t suggest a renewed determination to pursue his agenda: the speech was very vague and not very energetic. The Massachusetts election has certainly left the Democrats disoriented, and it showed tonight.
Joe Klein at Time magazine:
This was Obama at his best. He wasn't cuddly, but who cares? He was smart and he was funny--and he was drop-dead serious about the country. The speech should do him some good, but it's not enough. Now he has to preside, in the true sense of the term.
BooMan at the Booman Tribune:
I expected the reaction of the progressive blogosphere to this speech to be harsh, but it hasn't been for the most part and I am not sure why. As best as I can guess, it's because this speech reminded people why they liked Obama and worked to get him elected. After all, CBS says 83 percent and CNN says that 78 percent of the people had a positive reaction of the speech. And there were elements of the speech that should please progressives. He said that all of our troops will be leaving Iraq (which is probably not true), he called for the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law, he committed to letting the Bush tax cuts for the rich sunset, and he vowed to keep up the fight to pass health care reform.
Ross Douthat at The New York Times:
I don’t mean to be too hard on the president: All State of the Unions tend to sprawl, and some of the tonal and substantive dissonances I’m picking up on here are inevitable in a big, detailed, cover-the-waterfront kind of address. But if there was ever a night to tighten things up, to narrow the focus, and to figure out a few big things you want to stay and a couple of big impressions you want to leave, then this was it.
Photograph from Associated Press via CBS

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