Friday, January 29, 2010

Thoughts on Wednesday’s SOTU Address

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama gave his first State of the Union Address. To put it mildly, he delivered one of his best speeches to date.

Watch the full speech here:

It was folksy, compassionate, and at times humorous. Most importantly, it was moving.

Some in the blogosphere - from both left and right - have been quick to criticize the feeling of the speech, if not the substance. Arianna Huffington yesterday described it as the “State of the Focus Group Address”.

From her piece:

“while most State of the Union speeches have a bit of a kitchen-sink feel to them, this one seemed particularly so with its blink-and-you-missed-it mentions of "earmark reform" and cracking "down on violations of equal pay laws -- so that women get equal pay for an equal day's work." It felt less like an overriding vision for the country, and more like an attempt to deliver at least one applause line for every constituency in the country.

That's not political leadership. Obama clearly understands this. It's why he ended his speech by mocking politicians who "do what's necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what's best for the next generation." And he just as clearly has the ability to articulate a bold vision for the nation and lead it where it desperately needs to go.

But he didn't do it tonight.”

Huffington is right insofar as the message-testing reality of the speech. Obama is changing his tone to what the American people want to hear.

But to say its not political leadership is flat-out wrong. Americans have a deep mistrust in government right now, not because they disagree with any particular policy agenda, but because they haven’t been feeling a connection to the man they believe is responsible for the direction of such legislation. As a result, healthcare, energy, and financial reform bills have been slow to pass through Congress, and vital work is not being done.

Now, it’s not clear yet if Obama achieved that trust with the SOTU Address. We’ll be watching his approval rating in the days to come as pollsters report their data. But if any speech could rouse broader public support for his presidency, it was the one Wednesday night.

Other thoughts…

• Luckily for Obama, few liberals seem to have picked up on certain number of inferred policy objectives he mentioned, including corn-based ethanol, “clean” coal, offshore drilling, and No Child Left Behind. If they had, the skepticism of the current Democratic government among progressives would have been jolted, a concern given the prospects they may stay home come election time. Yet Obama’s rousing message of America seemed to trump the minor details.

• If Congress was a class room and Obama was the teacher, the Republicans were the brats who don’t pay attention and get bad grades. They’ve been obstructive to the legislative process over the past year the way some kids are disruptive to the rest of class. Last night I saw a few of them tweeting and generally not paying attention. Sure, this isn’t new, but it’s certainly concerning. When the President of the United State is addressing your body, you should really listen up.

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