A Much Better Oval Office Speech Than the First One

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Back in June, I thought that President Obama's first speech from the Oval Office, about the BP oil spill, was his first significant under-performance as an orator. Content not up to the occasion; stage presence detracting from rather than bolstering the message.

More details tomorrow, but Instant Analysis of tonight's address is: a better job on all fronts. A speech that in its content and line-by-line phrasing clearly conveyed its message. (Turning the page; now let's look to the next set of problems; even an oblique nod to William James at the end, with the exhortation that the public now had to match the commitment and bravery of the troops.) And bearing that backed up the sobriety of the content. Tiny but important performance detail: Obama's noticeable hands, which had been flying all over the place in his first address, were interlaced and immobile throughout.

I don't know how many people were watching or whether this will change any minds. But as a performance, clearly it helped rather hurt.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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