At-home viewers were overwhelmingly impressed with President Obama's second State of the Union address Tuesday night, according to instant CNN and CBS News polls. The pundits were more divided, with many calling the economy-focused, "American must compete" speech flat and lacking in specificity. Obama called for a freeze in spending and measures to reduce the national debt, but also pushed targeted federal investments in energy, education, and infrastructure. With deficit-hawk Republicans shaping the debate since November, did the speech help Obama regain control? (Watch a Fox News discussion about Obama's speech)
Obama "reframed the debate": The president gave "a smart speech aimed at scrambling the political debate," says E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. And scramble it he did, potentially "redefining the political center." Instead of arguing over big or small government, Obama championed a "forward-looking government" over a "diminutive, unambitious" one, and he cleverly reframed Reagan's winning "optimism" as belief in what government can do.
"Obama's State of the Union Address reframed the debate"
The calendar is helping Obama: Normally, the president has just a few days to sell the "big positive themes" in his State of the Union speech before submitting an actual, target-rich budget, says Stan Collender in Capital Gains and Games. This year Obama has three weeks to "keep the focus on the themes and dreams," not specific policies or numbers, and so far he's artfully using that lag to keep the discussion on his terms.
"A huge communications advantage with this year's SOTU"
He changed the tone, for now: Obama's "feel-good, oh-so-sensible, and sotto voce State of the Union address" was better than Congressional "Kumbaya," says Howard Fineman in The Huffington Post. It was a "Love Train" moment. He "shrewdly" vanquished "the anger of our politics," at least for an hour. And while his co-opted fiscal "prudence" won't "impress the Republicans, let alone the Tea Party," his real audience — moderates and independents — loved it.
"Obama State of the Union 2011: Love Train in the House!"
This was the same old Obama message: Obama's speech was "long on time, long on government initiatives, and long on sleight of hand," says Bob Barr in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but "noticeably short on real change." Yes, he "paid lip service" to a host of moderate-sounding ideas — reforming the tax code and federal regulations — but the details were "smoke and mirrors." All his proposals boiled down to more government spending and "prioritization."
"Another State-of-the-Union yawn"
His speech was divorced from reality: It was a "nice speech" — unless you want to address the actual "harsh realities facing the country," says John Chandley at Firedoglake. Evidently, Obama doesn't. If he'd wanted to shape the conversation, he would have addressed gun violence, Wall Street's ongoing "major crime wave," and the unemployment crisis, not to mention the state-level budget time bombs. He didn't mention any of them.
"Obama ignores actual state of the Union, makes nice speech"
Obama blew his shot to "move the center": Moving the political center to where he is standing "should be part of Obama's ambition," especially on health care, says Clive Crook in The Atlantic. But he'll never succeed if he continuously "fails to take the fiscal problem seriously." Without robust deficit-reduction measures, "the ceiling might fall in on the U.S. economy," and his presidency. Maybe "Obama and the center could, you know, meet in the middle."
"Move to the center, or move the center?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Why are so many parents being arrested?
- 9 things you probably didn't know about the moon
- Israel has only two choices: Eliminate the Palestinians or make peace
- The biggest lesson Obama failed to learn from Bush
- What I learned from totally unplugging and shutting up for three days
- The rise of the global middle class is our best hope to stop climate change
- Why America is duty bound to help Iraqi Christians
Subscribe to the Week