State of Disunion: Obama vs. Boehner

I'm not sure tonight's exchange of addresses -- the State of Disunion, as someone put it -- is going to have much of an effect on ordinary Americans. But for what it's worth, I thought Obama did better. In terms of presentation, it was no contest: few people are more gifted public speakers than Obama, so that's no real surprise. But Boehner relied on Washington buzz words ("Cut, Cap and Balance," "blank check") and seemed to me to speaking as much to his Tea Party wing as to the broader country. And he didn't explain the urgency of a two-step process and why it was necessary to risk default on the national debt. On substance, Obama made a compelling case for compromise -- which polls show Americans overwhelmingly desire -- and neatly dismissed Tea Party absolutism with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "Every man cannot have his way in all things." I suspect the average person watching at home, if they'd been wired to one of those Frank Luntz dials, would have liked what the president had to say. But I also think that the House Republicans he'll presumably need to support a plan are going to be less likely, rather than more likely, to compromise after hearing him speak. Perhaps they'll be persuaded if Obama succeeds in rousing ordinary people to pick up their phone, call their representative and demand compromise. But I seriously doubt it. I think he's probably helped Boehner keep his caucus together, and in that sense, despite turning in the better performance, he's left himself worse off after tonight. At least from my vantage point, a deal seems no closer at hand.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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