My immediate reaction to the State of the Union Address was pretty positive... not overwhelmingly so, but positive.
Two points that stood out as weaknesses to me: first, I wish Obama had really punched home the necessity for health care reform as a component of economic revival. Businesses large and small that offer a health package are being crushed by rising costs, and more and more businesses are being forced to drop coverage entirely to stay competitive. By failing to make that connection, he missed a major opportunity to explain to the American people why such reform is critical, not years in the future, but now.
Second, the wild shifts in tone made for good theater, but sent a confusing overall message. Is he really going to get more forceful with both sides? Is he really going to shame the dems into growing a pair? Is he really going to be calling out the blatant (and explicit) conservative obstructionism and lies? This is at the heart of my concerns with Obama: he's a smart and competent guy, as much so as anyone. But I've yet to see a willingness to brawl in public. He came pretty close in a couple of passages last night, referring to Republican obstructionism and to the recent Supreme's decision, but these issues need to be in the media regularly, not just once a year. The Republicans are masters of this sort of messaging, and the democrats are incompetent. I think Obama is perfectly capable of this sort of game, but he'd rather not play it. At his point, in my opinion, I think he'd best admit he has no choice but to dive in, name names and specifics, and fight for the things he wants in public fora, not with sternly worded messages behind closed doors.
But it wasn't really until this morning, discussing SOTU with other coffee drinkers, that it dawned on me what it was in the speech that had so resonated with me. I'm frustrated and angry with what I see happening (or not) in this country, and what I unknowingly wanted to see was evidence that Obama was too. And I did. So my visceral reaction was positive.
Still, relating to my second quibble, what matters here is the followup. We all know the guy can deliver a speech and keep us spellbound. (I was a little fidgety by the end; don't SOTU's normally go 40-45 minutes? On the other hand, I don't know what could or should have been cut.) Yes, my reaction was positive, and from what I've read, so was that of most people. A number of commentators have said that this speech recaptured many of us who've been becoming disaffected with him. In a sense that's true for me. However, if we don't start to see some real engagement from the White House in whipping Congress into line- or at least appeals to the court of public opinion if the jackals won't start actually doing their jobs- he won't hold us.
Also too, while not the disaster that Jindal's response was last year, I was transfixed by the way that the GOP's response looked like an amateurish, badly scripted comedy sketch. I was half expecting it to end with "Live from New York... it's SATURDAY NIGHT!"
Is This Your Hat?
2 years ago