SOTU 2014: Reax

Jan 29 2014 @ 12:13am

David Graham doubts tonight’s speech will change much:

As expected, Obama didn’t offer many huge initiatives. But this was not a downcast president, nor—with a couple notable exceptions—was it a stern scold attacking Congress. Obama seemed energetic and ready for his “year of action.” Yet many of the policies he talked about tonight were exactly the same ones he mentioned last year. With midterm elections on the horizon, is he likely to make more progress in 2014 than he did in 2013?

Josh Marshall’s view:

[A]s much as anything he seems comfortable (perhaps in some way liberated) with the fact that the legislative phase of his presidency is most likely over and seemed to be announcing what we call its rhetorical phase, using the bully pulpit to point a path for the country to move forward, using executive authority to nudge it forward where he can but mainly leaving a Congress that refuses to function to its own devices.

Ponnuru thought it was forgettable:

It seemed like a laundry list of mostly dinky initiatives, and as such a return to Clinton’s style of State of the Union addresses. Those speeches got some bad reviews as oratory but were pretty popular and I suspect this one will go over well too. The speech gives the president the opportunity to present himself as a reasonable guy working hard for the American public, and he did an effective job of that. A few of the ideas in the speech may even be good ones: the “myRA” proposal, for example, seems like it’s worth considering. But nobody is going to remember this speech two days from now–with the exception of Obama’s very moving closing remarks about Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg.

Drum liked the speech:

Before the speech, the big buzz was about how Obama was going to focus on executive powers. If Congress wouldn’t give him what he wanted, he’d do it himself with the stroke of a presidential pen. And thanks to that buzz, this is something that every talking head was emphasizing in the postgame wrap-ups. But in reality, there was very little of that in the speech itself. Obama repeatedly used phrases like “if Congress wants to help me, they can _____” but very few of them sounded to me like ultimatums. They sounded like pretty sincere desires to work with Congress, and I’m pretty sure that’s how they came across to viewers who listened to the speech without benefit of all the pre-speech framing. If there was an iron fist of executive orders behind this, it was mostly wrapped in a velvet glove.

Wilkinson weighs in:

This was the speech of a beaten-down president putting a brave face on his struggles. Mr Obama was zippy and upbeat, but the lack of an ambitious unifying vision and the vagueness of his proposals communicated the president’s resignation to his impotence in the face of the GOP’s unrelenting, stone-walling opposition. He’s not expecting much, and neither should we.

Jonah Goldberg calls it a “remarkably boring speech, intellectually and rhetorically”:

My general impression was this was a r. Not every idea was terrible. But no idea was particularly exciting, or all that significant. Because it lacked ambition, it was a far less offensive speech that I thought it would be. He soft-pedaled the inequality schtick, preferring instead to talk the more optimistic topic of “opportunity.” I thought this fell flat, at least in part because he tried to make it sound like the economy was going if not great, than really well. That’s a hard message to sell against the backdrop of Americans’ lived experience, not to mention the White House’s insistence that America desperately needs “emergency” extensions of unemployment payments etc.

Kilgore is more positive:

My general reaction was that this was kind of a minimalist version of one of those second-term Clinton SOTUs that covered a lot of ground and conveyed the sense that the president was snapping his fingers impatiently at the louts sitting down there on the other side of the aisle. I regret he didn’t hit the inequality theme a lot harder—profits sky-high, wages stagnant, long-term unemployed left behind—but he made for some uncomfortable moments for GOP solons on the UI and minimum-wage issues.

Yuval Levin’s take:

The fact is, the president and his agenda seemed exhausted in this speech. It’s not easy to remember any particular proposal or idea — except maybe another retirement savings vehicle, which might be fine, but the Treasury will probably have to work pretty hard to make it seem different than those that have long been available.

David Corn wanted more fireworks:

Obama barely called out Republicans in this speech; he did not exploit this high-profile moment to confront the obstructionist opposition. He delivered heartfelt anecdotes about Americans who need a raise or who rely on Obamacare. His tone was positive; his rhetoric was uplifting. He sought to move CEOs and citizens to action. But he did little to influence the political landscape.

Chait doesn’t blame Obama for not calling out the GOP:

A completely honest Obama speech about the economy would concede that he is nearly helpless to spur economic growth given the need to obtain consent from a Congressional party whose political interest lies in thwarting it. But he would be an idiot to say that. Americans tend to hold Obama accountable even for the actions of Congressional Republicans that lie beyond his control. (Many influential pundits do, too.) They equate the amount of time Obama devotes to talking about economic policy with his commitment to economic policy.

And so Obama is reduced to pretending the giant elephant in the room does not exist.

Galupo’s bottom line:

Say this for Obama: he seemed upbeat, despite low polling and talk of lame-duck-ery spreading like wildfire. If nothing else, he seems aware of the fact that there will be no more major legislative accomplishments of his administration. (Count me in the camp that immigration reform remains a long shot.) If he does nothing else than push the boulder of his approval rating a few points up the hill, and thereby maintain Democratic control of the Senate, he will maintain a semblance of relevance for the last three years of his presidency.