10.11 pm. This is a speech that revealed to us the president we might have had without the extraordinary crises – foreign and domestic – he inherited. I’ve always believed in his long game and in his bent toward pragmatism over ideology. Events can still upend things, but this is a president very much shaping the agenda past his own legacy. He’s showing Hillary Clinton the way, and has the midterms to point to as the result of the defensive crouch. If his standing improves still further, he will box her in, and she’ll have to decide if she’s going to be a Wall Street tool and proto-neocon or a more populist and confident middle class agenda-setter.
One of his best. And for the first time in his six years, he has the economic winds behind him. Stay tuned for my review of the GOP response, and for the Dish’s round-up of the blogosphere and Twitterverse.
10.07 pm. “I know because I won both of them.” Every now and again, the lamb shows his fangs. And that was spontaneous and a product of real confidence. Notice how utterly silent and hushed the chamber as gotten in the last fifteen minutes. He has them in his hands.
10.03 pm. “Basic decency over basest fears.” We’re in the John Lennon moment. And after a strongly partisan, Democratic speech, the quiet turn toward inclusion, humility and bipartisanship is a brilliant touch. One America:
Surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.
10.01 pm. He reclaims the post-partisan identity he began with:
I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long. I believe this because over and over in my six years in office, I have seen America at its best. I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates from New York to California; and our newest officers at West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs, and New London. I’ve mourned with grieving families in Tucson and Newtown; in Boston, West, Texas, and West Virginia. I’ve watched Americans beat back adversity from the Gulf Coast to the Great Plains; from Midwest assembly lines to the Mid-Atlantic seaboard. I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in ten Americans call home.
So I know the good, and optimistic, and big-hearted generosity of the American people who, every day, live the idea that we are our brother’s keeper, and our sister’s keeper. And I know they expect those of us who serve here to set a better example.
9.57 pm. This is candidate Obama on American values – not president Obama. On torture, he has backed the CIA all the way; on drones, I just don’t buy his claim of close targeting; on the NSA, he has not stood in the way of unprecedented spying on Americans. He has not earned this mantle. And it fits uneasily on his shoulders.
9.53 pm. The climate change emphasis – toward the peroration – is striking. His urgency is merited, as far as I can see. And a majority of Americans do believe the science, even as the GOP has dug in deeper with extreme skepticism at best and outright denialism. This time, he has the Pope on his side.
9.52 pm. A reader writes:
I think this might finally be the speech when Obama will throw down the mic at the end.
9.50 pm. Even more tepid applause for his attempt to get a deal with Iran. But at least he actually articulated his case clearly and powerfully.
9.44 pm. He’s now making an argument – finally – for his foreign policy. He targets fear as our enemy, not our friend. And over-reaction and “bluster” are as dangerous as any enemies we are fighting. That’s the man I endorsed. But his optimism about Afghanistan seems delusional to me; as does his ISIL policy. I notice a very light round of applause after his call for a new AUMF for Iraq and Syria. Not exactly a ringing bipartisan acclamation. But I enjoyed watching McCain listen to Obama’s gloating over Putin’s over-reach.
9.43 pm. Note that he wants to tax the proceeds from accumulated wealth, not work.
9.40 pm. This is a future-oriented, optimistic speech. What I like about it is the final laying out of a distinctively Democratic agenda. I’d like to see these proposals discussed and examined and pushed back on. But he has broken out of the Washington defensive crouch which afflicts most Democrats and is almost trade-marked by his would-be successor.
9.37 pm. This is the most confident I’ve ever seen him. The appeal to hire veterans; the call for major infrastructure, while dissing the Keystone pipeline; and a new commitment to scientific research. Even some Republicans stood up.
9.31 pm. A reader notes:
This child care thing is a softball for Hillary to knock out of the park, if she has the sense.
Another dissents with my 9.15 pm post:
His remarks on family weren’t about Washington. He’s putting me and my Republican neighbor in the same boat of America. Painting that picture of a family is brilliant.
9.29 pm. The Democrats are lovin’ it. Boehner’s got a cold.
9.26 pm. A national economic priority for childcare – not a nice-to-have, but a must-have. And he frames it as not a women’s issue. He’s tackling the core issues of struggling middle class families. Seven days of paid sick leave seems more than a little helpful to me right now, after three weeks of fevers.
9.24 pm. A reader notes that Boehner’s face is actually darker than Obama’s.
9.22 pm. Warren is standing; Menendez looks really uncomfortable; Paul Ryan just let out a big sigh, it seemed to me. “Middle class economics” is a pretty good slogan too.
9.20 pm. He’s actually taking credit for the ACA. Imagine that. And wrapping it up in better economic data.
9.19 pm. I can’t help but feel that low gas prices are key to his polling recovery. Didn’t hurt to remind peeps.
9.15 pm. Could anything be less true than that America is one strong, united family? Good pitch; but still obviously untrue. We have been divided intensely during this slow and now accelerating economy.
9.12 pm. Another morning in America. Unemployment lower than before the Great Recession; growth strongest since the 1990s; more insured Americans; most troops brought back home. For the first time in any of his SOTUs, Obama is calling the state of the union “strong.”
9.11 pm. Party like it’s 1999! One reader already is:
9.09 pm. I haven’t read the transcript yet because I want to respond to the address as it comes. This is theater as much as anything.
9.07 pm. For an introvert, he still knows how to work a crowd.
8.55 pm. On this auspicious and occasionally uplifting occasion, allow me to welcome Alex Pareene back to the punchbowl:
Here is some of [SOTU-writer Cody] Keenan’s hard-bitten, muscular prose, from a previous State of the Union address:
“Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades,” Mr. Obama said in the opening lines of last year’s State of the Union address, written by Mr. Keenan. The president went on: “A farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history. A rural doctor gave a young child the first prescription to treat asthma that his mother could afford. A man took the bus home from the graveyard shift, bone-tired but dreaming big dreams for his son.”
That is boilerplate State of the Union rhetoric. Do you know what it doesn’t sound like? Good prose by a good author. Peggy Noonan could down two bottles of white wine and crank this kind of shit out in ten minutes before passing out. Paul Harvey would’ve been embarrassed to read this on the radio. It’s a storyboarding session for a TV commercial. If you actually imagine those images, the first thing that comes to mind is a soothing voice rapidly reading pharmaceutical contraindications.
(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty.)