Tucson it was not.
President Obama turned in a lackluster performance last night, one that only the mainstream media could applaud-and a perusal of the newspapers indicates that they are doing just that: “Address Calls on U.S. to Innovate, Sacrifice” said the Washington Post. “Mr. Obama sought to cast the challenges facing the nation as transcending partisan politics,” the New York Times notes in the caption of a picture of hands reaching out to shake the paw of the prez. Citing an insta-poll, Politics Daily says the public loved it (the columnist certainly did!)
Okay, but how did he really do?
Janet Daley of the U.K. Telegraph nailed it:
So Barack Obama did not match his performance at Tucson: this was a mediocre speech which did not even succeed in getting the usual succession of standing ovations. Bottoms stayed firmly on chairs as he recited what he regarded as the achievements of his spending programmes. (It reminded me more than anything of one of Gordon Brown’s interminable Budget speeches.)
Ouch! Former Brit Prime Minister Gordon Brown, with his Aztec good looks, is hardly the right role model for our debonair president. But Daley twists the knife:
The most notable themes were his determination to save his healthcare programme and to continue “investment” – which is to say public spending (echo of Gordon Brown again) – to revive the economy. His bipartisanship extended only to an offer to listen to those who had suggestions for improving Obamacare and inviting his opponents to offer ideas for infrastructure projects on which more money might be spent.
Writing on National Review, Ralph Reed notes that the president’s putative and rhetorical shift to the middle gave the speech a surreal tinge:
The result was a State of the Union speech so filled with cognitive dissonance as to be incoherent. Self-contradiction abounded. We must reform Social Security, Obama declared, but not reduce benefits for future retirees or expose them to the vicissitudes of the stock market. That pretty much removes 80 percent of a potential compromise on entitlement reform from the table. We must reduce government spending – but increase “investments” in education, energy, and infrastructure by tens of billions of dollars. We must finish what we started in Iraq and Afghanistan – but bring all the troops home as soon as possible. That Obama could deliver these words with such apparent conviction is a testament to his political skills, but an indictment of his leadership. His only north star is himself. As one adviser told New York magazine in an unintentionally revealing observation, “He wants to be Barack Obama again.” Which leaves one wondering: Who has he been for the past two years?
In a piece headlined “What Crisis,” Yuval Levin found the SOTU “worse than bland and empty, it was a dereliction of duty.” All such addresses are political, but most take at least passing notice of the state of the Union. Not last night.
Kudos to Rich Lowry for the best summary:
[The SOTU] was as upbeat as a Richard Simmons workout, as syrupy sweet as a Coca-Cola commercial and as positive as a Joel Osteen sermon. He sounded like he was trying out for head cheerleader on the “Go America!” squad, albeit in front of a congressional audience that was notably less rambunctious than usual.
Thematically, it’s hard to believe that the speech won’t go over well: What’s not to like in an extended celebration of the American idea, the American spirit and the American people? It’s as if President Obama were saying to critics who accuse him of not believing in American exceptionalism, “Oh, yeah? I’ll see you, and raise you.”