Once Again, A First-Rate Speech

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I don't know how many people stayed tuned in to watch the whole hour-plus of this speech, counting intro and so on. But, once again among his major addresses, it will bear long-term study for its range, tone, and clarity:

 - Conciliatory: You Republicans want to talk about tort reform? Let's hear your ideas.
 - Tough: When you tell lies, we will call you out.
 - Clarifying: For the first time ever, I felt as if I glimpsed a "larger idea" behind the Obama plan.
 - Big picture: The role-of-government soliloquy at the end, including the connection to the moral and social-contract histories of Social Security and Medicare.
 - Emotional, sans schmaltz: As he got ready for the end, I feared that he would tell the story of all the Lenny Skutnik figures in the First Lady's box. Instead, he told Ted Kennedy's story, with allusions only to Kennedy's Republican friends.
- Simple performance dynamics: Well delivered, including at crucial points talking over the applause to keep the rhythm going.
- Manners: Will it pay off for the Republicans to have booed him and, in the case of Rep. "Gentleman Joe" Wilson of South Carolina, to have yelled "you lie!" at the President? We'll see. Update: An ActBlue site supporting an opponent to Wilson raised more than $25,000 within three hours of his outburst. Via Simon Owens.

There will come a time when Barack Obama cannot pull himself out of pinch with a big speech. And obviously we don't know how this debate will turn out yet. But he hasn't fallen short on the big-speech front yet. More tomorrow.

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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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