Well, folks, we made it another year. Thanks to all those who joined the Ricochet State of the Union live chat. It was great fun. For those of you who didn’t participate – you missed out. Join us next time.
A few thoughts from the still-warm chair of this erstwhile presidential speechwriter:
- The tone of this address was all wrong. Obama’s cadence and vocal tone were reminiscent of his days back on the campaign trail. We’re far enough removed from the midterm elections that he didn’t have to spend 45 minutes eating humble pie – that’s what the post-election press conference was for. What he did have to do, however, was to acknowledge the new political reality of Washington and define his place within it. Shockingly, he did not. He still acted as if he was going to break the nation to the saddle of the presidency. This will not help his case going forward.
- It was inevitable, and not inappropriate, that this speech would end up revisiting the Tucson shootings. The execution was clunky, however. This was a speech without drama and that wasn’t helped at all by the fact that the section on Congresswoman Giffords was frontloaded. Had the President kept it in his pocket until the speech’s climax, the audience would have held on to see what he was going to say. Instead, the writers dumped it in the speech’s opening and it led to an awkward and (to be frank) tasteless transition into policy.
- The basic hurdle everyone expected the president to cross was finding common ground with the center. He didn’t. The gesture towards tax reform was nice, but expected. It doesn’t get him much he didn’t already have. The only artful use of the new reality was coupling repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with a call for college campuses to open their doors to ROTC. It was a savvy move, particularly because it cost Obama nothing but gained him some goodwill.
- Robert Gibbs turned out to be right when he said this speech wouldn’t be a laundry list. Sadly, a laundry list would have been an improvement. State of the Union speeches are usually exercises in tortured construction. This one sounded like the product of Martin Heidegger on a three-day bender. It was too long, too abstract, too clichéd and too condescending (the shot at oil companies, in particular, was ungracious).
- Unlike many of my ecstatic Ricochet compatriots, I found Paul Ryan’s response to be a solid, workmanlike effort. It even had a few flashes of brilliance. By the debased standards of State of the Union responses, it was an absolute home run. But, in my estimation, it was not by any measure a game-changer.