With things going from bad to worse for President Obama—unemployment hitting 10 percent, poll numbers dropping below 50 percent, and his biggest domestic initiative, health care, all but dead—there was general agreement that his first State of the Union address had to be the speech of his political life. Did he deliver? (Watch a CBS report about Obama's State of the Union address)
Obama's maturity elevated the conversation: "This was Obama’s best speech because it was, so far, his worst moment," says Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. He was "so commonsensical" and "so mature," he "seemed the only adult in the room," pushing more for "decorum and civility" than for any of his moderate policy proposals. Americans understand: "This is what a president should do."
"State of the Union: Obama plays grown-up"
The speech: good for Obama, bad for Congressional Democrats: The speech will help Obama with the American people, but "it may not help his fellow Democrats in Congress," says John Dickerson in Slate. "It may, in fact, hurt them." He aligned himself with the "noble public" against the feckless Congress—and Democrats, of course, control Congress.
The President successfully 'shamed' Republicans: "Obama acquitted himself well" in the speech, says Eleanor Clift in Newsweek. Since independents are his problem, he wasn't trying to "woo liberals," but his deft shaming of Republicans for just saying no "had to warm liberal hearts." In fact, "if raising the cost to Republicans for their obstructionism is all Obama achieved tonight," he succeeded.
"For liberals, Obama saved the best for last"
Obama can't face reality: Obama had "one main task: to make a credible case that his policies will help reduce unemployment," says Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. "For the most part, he failed." That's because he doesn't get that his problems aren't primarily political. Instead, "Obama has a reality problem": Unemployment is bad, and his policies won't fix it.
"State of the Union: Obama's reality problem"
Good rhetoric, but where's the substance? Obama "did a fine job of defining the problems America is facing," says USA Today in an editorial, but he wasn't so convincing on the solutions front. True, Americans seem "almost impossible to please," but Obama promised to change the tone in Washington, he hasn't, and really, "only presidents can break that sort of gridlock."
"Obama defines the problems, comes up short on solutions"
The speech changes nothing — Obama's still doomed: Obama needed to "hit the reset button," says Karl Rove in The Wall Street Journal, but his speech "did little to ... reverse his sinking fortunes." Not that it was ever likely to—"since World War II, presidential job approval ratings have dropped an average of 1.8 points after a president's first State of the Union speech."
"The State of the Union is no 'reset' button"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How Israel's hawks intimidated and silenced the last remnants of the anti-war left
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- Why China thinks it could defeat the U.S. in battle
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- Welcome to the age of ambivalent feminism
- The big policy question libertarians can't answer
- Why your employer should clean your house and do your laundry
- The real lesson of Rick Perry's mug shot
- What you need to know before you support the police in Ferguson
- What is Molly? Everything you need to know about the party drug
Subscribe to the Week