SOTU annotation coming tomorrow

Over the past decade, I've produced an "Annotated Version" of most State of the Union speeches soon after they were delivered. The 2008 version and links to a number of others here. Because of Atlantic speech-related events this evening, I won't do one tonight but will in this space by tomorrow morning. Just for the record.

Obama's big speech this evening is like several other of his high-stakes appearances in apparently needing to be a home-run in order to reverse his fortunes. So it was with his post-Rev. Wright speech about race relations in March, 2008, when he was on the verge of being forced out of the campaign; similarly with his first debate appearance against John McCain in August 2008, when McCain's prospects seemed to be rising; and similarly last September with his address about health care to a Joint Session of Congress, when the summer-long "death panel" / "tea party" rhetoric had built great opposition to his plan. And so even it seemed to be in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the circumstances of which practically guaranteed a falling-short-of-expectations result. In each of those cases, his performance exceeded expectations, improved his prospects, and reversed negative momentum.

Tonight? We'll see. I will say that the main pre-speech leak, about the "spending freeze," is different from his previous high-stakes appearances and is not very encouraging. If he doesn't mean it -- if this is a gimmick to claim "discipline" when much of the budget will still grow -- it's out of character precisely in its gimmickry. (Remember the campaign-era Obama's contempt for the gas-tax-holiday gimmick eagerly embraced by McCain and Hillary Clinton.) If he does mean it, it's at odds with the whole post-Great Depression logic (not to mention post-Obama inauguration policy) about the danger of cutting back on public "stimulus" spending too early during an economic contraction. Another reason to watch tonight.

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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.

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