ChrisWeigant.com

The State Of The Union

[ Posted Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 – 22:43 PST ]

I haven't written one of these snap-judgment reactions to a speech in a while, so forgive me if this is a bit choppy and disorganized. As always, I am writing this before looking at other opinions of President Obama's just-completed State Of The Union speech. I feel this keeps my opinion unsullied by any sort of "groupthink" effect. Sometimes I read other speech reviews the next day and find I agree with them, sometimes not, but this way at least you know I'm not just regurgitating others' thoughts.

OK, well, I do have to regurgitate one thought, because it pretty much sums up all I have to say about Mitch Daniels' response to the president's speech. On PBS, right after Daniels spoke, center-right columnist David Brooks had a funny line: "That was actually the most charismatic Daniels ever gets." Wow. "No wonder this man didn't run for president this year," was my first thought, in response.

But we're not here to talk about the yawn-fest that was the response, we're here to talk about Obama's speech to the nation, right?

Overall, it was an excellent political speech, as political speeches go. For Barack Obama, however, the scale is always higher, since even on a bad day, Obama can give a better speech than most politicians not named "Bill Clinton." Measuring on the "Obama scale," the speech wasn't the best he's ever given, but it was at least in the top fifteen or twenty. Stylistically, Obama looked relaxed and confident throughout the entire delivery, and he hit his oratorical stride early on and only stumbled in the pacing a few times until the very end.

Getting beyond style, however, Obama knew full well that (1) this was a political speech at the beginning of his campaign, and (2) not much of anything he proposed is going to happen this year in Congress. This freed him up, somewhat, from the normal pressure these speeches are under to deliver a "laundry list" of policy ideas which actually have any chance of passing in the coming months. Obama did likely make some news with some new ideas, and he did get off into the weeds of specifics a few times during the speech, but overall he stuck to laying out a broad theme which will form the center of his re-election campaign. More on this in a moment, but let me go through my notes and single out a few snap reactions from the details of the speech.

Obama's opening and closing moments were by far the best of the speech. It's rare that a Democrat leads with foreign policy as his strongest feature, but Obama has certainly earned the right to do so. Reminding folks that we're out of Iraq and "this just in... Osama Bin Laden is still dead" (as it were) will be strong points throughout Obama's upcoming campaign, for good reason.

Likewise on the jobs issue, Obama did a good job contrasting the problems we faced when he took office with what's been going on for the past few months, as things finally start to look a bit better. Obama's record on getting manufacturing jobs back is a strong point he's never bragged enough about, because this is indeed a turnaround from a multi-decade decline. Likewise, his comments on border security -- Obama's record on this is far better than either George W. Bush's or Bill Clinton's was, which people may not realize unless Obama specifically points it out.

Obama hit all the big main themes he had announced for his speech well, rising and falling in tempo as the evening went on, but with at least one rousing moment during each. His new "alternative millionaires' tax" idea that nobody that wealthy should pay less than 30 percent of their income in federal taxes was likely the biggest newsmaker, and is a much more concrete way of putting this idea than he's ever done before -- for which he has Mitt Romney's taxes to thank (good timing, eh?).

Speaking of Mitt Romney, Obama managed to get a few shots across his bow, in direct response to the campaign rhetoric of not only Mitt but a lot of other Republicans as well -- in particular his line about how anyone who said America was in decline in the world "doesn't know what he's talking about." It's going to be hard for the pro-"American exceptionalism" Right to counter that simple statement effectively.

Obama did very well in his speech tonight thematically. He's better at this than most Democrats, but ever since he took office he has sometimes struggled to make the Democratic case of a vision for the future, and a path we all should take to get there. Obama has been improving on this front since about the middle of last summer. He's not completely at the pitch he needs to be for the campaign, but he's getting mighty close.

To put this another way: tonight, Obama laid out his vision for a brighter tomorrow. He did so in a very positive way, and also showed how the alternative Republican path is all pretty much back to the ways things were when the economy collapsed. The phrasing and language he used to do so was much better than he's ever managed at a State Of The Union speech so far:

"We've come too far to turn back now."

"I will fight obstructionism with action."

"We bet on American workers."

"America will always win."

Republicans are "out of excuses" not to move on immigration reform.

"I will not walk away..."

"Nation-building right here at home."

"I will not back down."

"That's not right."

His biggest line of the night, which he'll doubtless be repeating often, was the one about "no bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs." Together with his economic "fairness" argument, he's playing the populist card extremely well -- again, something he's not always been all that good at since he became president.

The final State Of The Union speech a first-term president gives is always a preview of his campaign for re-election. Tonight was no different than any other third-year presidential speech. Republicans might attempt to attack him on this front, but this truly is normal and not even worth commenting on.

The measure of such a third-year speech was how well it spoke to the Congress and the country about how the president sees the future. What would he do in a second term? What direction does he want to lead the country? What goals will he be working toward? How is his vision different from the people challenging him for his job?

Barack Obama laid all of this out tonight. His speech was forward-looking, confident, and well thought out. Whether you agree or not with his exact vision for the future, you left the speech at least knowing what Obama's vision is -- where he wants to take America both in the next year and, possibly, for the next four years after that.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

28 Comments on “The State Of The Union”

  1. [1] 
    Chris1962 wrote:

    I guess it comes down how many Americans are gonna be willing to buy into "Yes, We Can 2.0." What kind of a bump do you think he's gonna get, Chris?

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Chris1962 -

    That's a tougher question than you might think.

    Obama's currently at the top of a "bump" cycle, topping out at just over 46%. This is up from his low of around 43% a few months ago. But, like I said, the trend was topping out a week ago at least.

    So any bump he gets here is going to be independent of the previous trend, I think. I'd say he gets about a point-and-a-half bump, for about three weeks, until the infighting over the extension of the payroll tax break fight really heats up in Congress. So, put him at 48%, in a week or two, perhaps falling back after then. That's my humble guess.

    -CW

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    It was a campaign speech, pure and simple...

    Even worse, it was the same old platitudes, the same old shiny beads and shallow flattery that Obama has become famous for...

    In short, "move along, nothing to see here"....

    Americans have given up hope and told Obama to keep the change...

    Michale

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    - in particular his line about how anyone who said America was in decline in the world "doesn't know what he's talking about."

    Hmmmmmmmm

    Interesting..

    In the 1992 Presidential Elections, Clinton was going on and on about how America is in trouble and bad things are happening etc etc..

    Bush (HW) used the same terminology that Obama is using....

    And we all know how THAT election turned out, eh?? :D

    Irregardless of that, America's influence and prestige ARE in decline and only a foo....er... person not firmly cemented in reality would think otherwise...

    Michale

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/havent-we-heard_618462.html

    Whadi tell ya...

    Same old shiny beads and shallow flattery...

    Michale

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Bush (HW) used the same terminology that Obama is using....

    lest we forget, HW turned out to be right. the economy really was turning around on his watch, and clinton got to take credit for it.

  7. [7] 
    dsws wrote:

    And we all know how THAT election turned out, eh?

    Perot got 19%. So you're predicting what, a third-party run by Ron Paul?

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    lest we forget, HW turned out to be right.

    And yet, still lost... :D

    Michale

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    Perot got 19%. So you're predicting what, a third-party run by Ron Paul?

    "I am analyzing. Not point making"
    -Spock, STAR TREK, The Enemy Within

    I simply point out the similarities between this and the 1992 election with Obama playing the role of Bush (HW) and Gingrich playing the role of Bill Clinton...

    Thereby showing that the more things change, the more they stay the same... :D

    A third Party run by Paul absolutely scares the frak out of me... Because it will guarantee an Obama victory...

    And this country cannot survive another 4 years of Obama and the Democrats..

    Michale

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    “When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails.”

    Of course, if that person next to Obama is standing in Obama's path to re-election, then that person is toast....

    Michale

  11. [11] 
    DerFarm wrote:

    Sheesh, I go to Argentina for 2 weeks and look what happens!

    BTW, when do I win my prize for predicting the non-Newtplosion?

    AND, I'm reclaiming my predictions from Iowa: Santorum, Mittens and RP!!!!

    Go PATS.

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    Go PATS.

    Sorry, DF...

    History is gonna repeat itself.. :D

    Michale

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    Oh no!!!

    Warren Buffet's secretary!!!

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2012/01/25/warren-buffetts-secretary-likely-makes-between-200000-and-500000year/

    She is so poor and down-trodden.... Definitely part of the 99%......

    NOT!!!

    Michale

  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    Limbaugh has a good idea..

    Since Obama has made Buffet's secretary the poster child for his STICK IT TO THE RICH campaign, let's see HER tax returns....

    Michale

  15. [15] 
    dsws wrote:

    She didn't choose to make herself a public figure. Romney did. (As did Limbaugh and Obama and Warren Buffet.)

  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:

    She didn't choose to make herself a public figure. Romney did. (As did Limbaugh and Obama and Warren Buffet.)

    Neither did Joe The Plumber...

    But that didn't stop the Left from totally denigrating him, right??

    Oh wait, let me guess..

    That's different...

    With the Left, it's *ALWAYS* different...

    Michale

  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    Lemme ask ya'all something..

    How many of the 99% can afford a second home??

    Between her and her husband, this Debra Bosanek likely makes well over a million dollars a year...

    That put's them in the category of millionaires...

    Ya know, the people the Left love to attack and demonize???

    Michale

  18. [18] 
    dsws wrote:

    But that didn't stop the Left from totally denigrating him, right?

    There's a difference between denigrating someone, and making intrusive demands. Feel free to denigrate Warren Buffet's secretary all you want. She almost certainly doesn't care what you have to say. But don't expect any reasonable person to agree that she should be forced to disclose normally-private information just because your side would benefit from the talking point.

  19. [19] 
    Michale wrote:

    There's a difference between denigrating someone, and making intrusive demands.

    Oh of course...

    "It's different"... :D

    Michale

  20. [20] 
    Michale wrote:

    But don't expect any reasonable person to agree that she should be forced to disclose normally-private information just because your side would benefit from the talking point.

    My point is, the Left hysterically dug into Joe The Plumber's life.

    Therefore you must agree that it is equally fair for the Right to dig into Bosanek's life...

    If she allowed herself to be used as the poster child for "fair" taxes and the like, then she should show what she really pays in taxes...

    Otherwise, it's fair game to ask, "What's she hiding"...

    Just as the Left asked of Joe The Plumber, "What are you hiding"??

    Oh wait...

    "That's different", right?? :D

    Michale.....

  21. [21] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    here's something else that made me want to smack someone:

    "Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. (Applause.) And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making. (Applause.) "

    this is what got the president his biggest bipartisan applause of the evening. well, i have a question. how can you both "keep good teachers on the job," and "stop teaching to the test," when standardized tests continue to be improperly used as the main criterion for determining "teacher quality?"

    what nobody in the president's tight little circle seems to be telling him is that value-added figures a teacher's contribution to student test scores at a maximum of about 12.5%, while most of what constitutes actual good teaching does not show up on standardized tests. it's like deciding barbers' pay, job security and prestige based mainly on how straight they cut side-burns, then mouthing platitudes about how "good barbers" shouldn't need to spend so much time cutting side-burns. why didn't anyone in the audience get this?

    ~joshua

  22. [22] 
    Michale wrote:

    why didn't anyone in the audience get this?

    Simple..

    They drunk the koolaid...

    Michale

  23. [23] 
    dsws wrote:

    Therefore you must agree that it is equally fair for the Right to dig into Bosanek's life.

    Googling her, along with the more sophisticated equivalents available to those who have the budget for it, is in bounds. Coercing her to disclose personal info is out of bounds.

    how can you both "keep good teachers on the job," and "stop teaching to the test," when standardized tests continue to be improperly used as the main criterion for determining "teacher quality?"

    Standardized tests are over-used, no question. But they're far from being the only criterion. If a principal knows that a particular teacher doesn't bother to answer email from parents and from other school staff, they don't have to withhold judgment while they wait for the test scores to come in.

  24. [24] 
    Michale wrote:

    Googling her, along with the more sophisticated equivalents available to those who have the budget for it, is in bounds. Coercing her to disclose personal info is out of bounds.

    So, you would be fine with everything that was done to Joe The Plumber be done to Bosanek, right??

    Michale

  25. [25] 
    dsws wrote:

    I don't know what was done to "Joe the Plumber". I try to pay attention to politics, but I don't pay attention to celebrities. "Joe the Plumber" was sort of some of each. I also don't pay much attention to my own side's talking points (present company excepted). I don't figure I'm going to learn much from them. They're intended for advocacy, and I'm not an advocate.

  26. [26] 
    dsws wrote:

    Ok, on a quick google, it sounds as though the search done on "Joe the Plumber" was of confidential information, not a google and LexisNexis search on matters of public record. The person responsible lost their job over it.

    You agree that anyone who demands Bosanek's personal info should be fired for it, right?

    Of course not. That's different.

  27. [27] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    If a principal knows that a particular teacher doesn't bother to answer email from parents and from other school staff, they don't have to withhold judgment while they wait for the test scores to come in.

    dan,

    in point of fact, they usually do have to wait. under NCLB and RTTT, criteria other than test scores are not necessary to fire a teacher or close a school. of course someone who is being blatantly unethical should be asked to leave, but in many states test scores make up 50% of a teacher's summative evaluation.

    at least in my district, there are 7 dimensions of teaching that make up the other 50%. that means things like knowledge, professionalism, communication, assessment, classroom management and so forth count for less than 10% each. i could ignore every e-mail in my in-box all year, but if my lesson plans and grades were in order, and all my students sat quietly and tested well (or had someone cheat for them) i'd be called a great teacher.

    anyhow, my point was that the president is using contradictory labels. on the one hand he's saying that teachers should be free from test-based instruction, but at the same time his policy weights tests heavily when deciding who is a "quality" teacher and who isn't. if your livelihood depends on short term student gains on a standardized test, the traditional notion of what it means to be a good teacher has been thrown out the window, under the bus and backed over.

  28. [28] 
    dsws wrote:

    in many states test scores make up 50% of a teacher's summative evaluation

    I agreed that test scores are horribly over-used. What I was saying is that they don't have to be, just because they're used at all. When a teacher declines to communicate with parents at all, the principal knows that teacher isn't doing a good job -- even if the principal also makes excessive use of test scores in other cases.

    I don't remember for sure, but I suspect that I mis-read, and was responding to a slightly different statement from you than the one you had actually made.

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