State of the Union First Impressions: Yawn

Pundits wonder: was that all?

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"Winning the future" was the unofficial theme of the speech, but did President Obama's State of the Union address even win the evening? A handful of voices from around the Web offered up instant appraisals of the president's performance appraisals

  • Too Safe? Obama struck a conciliatory tone with his remarks, writes The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. If there was an overarching theme, it was "that America is a very special place with very special people who can and will solve any problem thrown at them." Rather than offer a defense of his more controversial policies, Obama chose to devote "considerable time on the need to super-charge our educational system -- a topic that could actually draw some bipartisan support in this Congress." On those rare occasions when the speech did broach a sensitive political subject, the president tended to sidle up to the issue with a "very light touch or with a lack of specifics."
  • Olive Branch The speech was "sweeping" in scope, writes Politico's Josh Gerstein, yet by the end of the evening it seemed like Obama had staked out at least some common with the GOP-controlled House. The remarks placed "unmistakable emphasis on growing the American economy and creating jobs" and outlined a "more aggressive approach to reducing government spending." Burnishing his fiscal hawk credentials, Obama also called for "changes in the tax code and cutting some favored programs," and "pledged to reject all bills containing earmarks...and proposed a freeze in discretionary government spending for five years."
  • Thin The National Review's Douglas Holtz-Eakin was intrigued to hear Obama voice his support for GOP-approved causes like entitlement reform and a reduction in government spending, but wishes the speech included more specifics. Instead, it was "mostly a series of broad, sweeping vision statements followed by narrow, more-of-the-same policy prescriptions." Holtz-Eakin admits the speech contained "nuggets of promise in the emphasis on education, and the acknowledgment that corporate profits are not a bad thing and that corporate tax reform is desirable," but says they were largely overshadowed by the the "proforma attacks on oil companies and banks, and the stone-walling of fixing the health-care mistake."
  • Lingering Questions Obama tried to make the case that "the politics of austerity, mindlessly applied, would amount to a pre-emptive surrender to China," but The New York Times' David Sanger wonders if the president's appeal to American exceptionalism understates the extent to which an economic rebound depends on foreign actors. Sanger explains:
What Mr. Obama stepped around is the reality of American competition today — that innovation, education and infrastructure are necessary ingredients for global competitive success, but no guarantee. Many of the technologies on which Mr. Obama is depending are the product of joint ventures that combine American ideas, European design and Asian manufacturing. That is something few in this Congress may want to hear, much less finance, given that many of the jobs those innovations create do not go to Americans.

  • Perfunctory The Atlantic's Joshua Green doesn't mean it as a compliment when he says the speech was in the "same category as Obama's inaugural address." Above all else, the speech was functional. The president passed on "soaring rhetoric or soothing the nation" in favor of words "intended to do a job: to set the agenda and refocus the nation's attention where Obama would like it to be." In Green's estimation,Obama's attempt to "recast his image" fell flat, with the president sounding "hucksterish and hokey, as though [he' were fresh from some all-day motivational conference by Tom Peters or some other catch-phrase spouting business guru type."
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