Here are some reactions to last night’s State of the Union speech, but first….
To be fair, Rubio had some good humor about the faux pas, and the self depecration may have saved his presidential ambitions.
Before I hear CNN “analysis,” I thought speech clever in how he handled challenge to GOP; very Clintonian in policy offerings (and better than past SOTUs); and pretty good at taking advantage of areas where public opinion pretty much already on his side. Minimum wage increase good example: Republican pols and business leaders hate it, public loves it.
Republicans are probably insta-huddling to figure out how to deal w/ what Obama said about “entitlement reform.” Do they declare victory or claim fraud?
After an election, the winning party typically tries to pass the policies it campaigned on while the losers go back to the drawing board to try to work up a more appealing agenda. But last night’s dueling speeches revealed, strangely, the reverse.
President Obama’s agenda has become much more ambitious since the election, ranging from universal pre-kindergarten to raising the minimum wage to gun control to immigration reform. But neither the Republican Party’s agenda nor its rhetoric has changed a whit. [...]
It’s often the case that candidates are more ambitious than presidents. But Obama’s second term is showing precisely the reverse progression. The speech went much further than Obama’s 2012 Democratic convention speech. There, his address was notable mainly for how modest the policy proposals were. Here, his speech was notable for the sweeping nature of the proposed changes. Obama’s agenda hasn’t been this bold since 2009.
A very strong speech, better that most, an A-. The writing was prose, except for the “they deserve a vote flourish at the end,” which was powerful, but the structure was very effective. I really liked the way he opened by diving right into the sequester (as I suggested!). The words weren’t exactly the ones I’d have chosen, but it was good that he said–early, when everyone was still watching–that the Republicans are going to be the ones to blame if these cuts kick in.
Obama’s repeated plea to the nation tonight was to face reality: his tone was relentless reasonability. He spoke with a distilled fluency of a man who has been articulating the same values and proposing essentially the same policies (excepting gun control) for six years on the national stage and now speaks with the knowledge that through several permutations and waves of oppositional hysteria he has still has (or has regained) a majority with him on the big stuff. And so he argued, not only as if he were himself convinced but convinced that we are convinced …
Now we’re really into Reagan territory. The 102 year-old is pretty damn amazing. And, yes, it is a national scandal that she had to wait six hours to vote. Then a heroic cop. “That’s just the way we’re made.” I have to say that even to these jaundiced ears, that peroration moved me. The passion, the reason, the sincerity: this was an invigorated president, trying to shift the mood away from zero-sum partisanship to non-zero-sum citizenship. It’s what we always hoped from him, and I think it places the Republicans in a horrible bind. Are they going to prevent a vote on guns? Are they going to refuse Bowles-Simpson Medicare reform? Are they willing to force a sequester rather than cooperate with this popular president? Does the Speaker not appreciate a 102 year-old getting to vote? Why did he stay seated? I have a feeling that moment will strike people.
Booman, whom I agree with almost completely:
Whether or not the perception is overblown, the president has gained a reputation for promising only what he can realistically deliver. Some call it timidity. Some call it practicality. Some call it genius. But the president almost never picks a fight that he can’t win. In fact, the first time I can really remember him violating that rule was in the summer of 2011 after it became clear that no Grand Bargain would be achievable, and he introduced the American Jobs Act. He knew that the Republicans wouldn’t enact any part of his proposal, but he started campaigning for it anyway.
What distinguished last night’s State of the Union speech was precisely the lack of realism. Congress is not going to raise the minimum wage or pass cap-and-trade or fund universal preschool or ban assault weapons. They are not going to do almost anything that the president proposed. Even the emotional peroration of the speech was a pleading for Congress to simply allow a vote on a pared down set of gun violence proposals. It was stirring and effective, yes, but it was also the most powerful man on the planet plaintively begging Congress to consider a small proposal.
Yet, it felt like more than that. The whole speech felt like more than the sum of its parts. Parts were philosophical. In fact, his summation was philosophical.
We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.
This was followed by Marco Rubio’s response that the government isn’t going to help you; it is only going to stand in your way. But Obama’s vision isn’t binary. Our government is made up of citizens. Our citizens form governments, large and small, to get things done for each other. If our governments can’t help us, then we cannot help ourselves. Obama’s vision is diametrically opposed to Reaganism precisely because it isn’t binary.