Putting aside 1) the plethora of double speak 2) the fact that he's made many of these same promises before yet never even tried to deliver and 3) he obviously had to move to the center to stop the bleeding at the polls - I think this was Obama's best SOTU yet.
Last year's State of the Union address was totally inappropriate. The SOTU is the President's opportunity to step above partisan bickering and unify the nation - to the point of trying to bring his political opposition around to his way of thinking. Instead of doing that, Obama simply used the 2010 SOTU as yet another public platform to attack Republicans. It was beneath the office, and I don't think I've ever seen a president stoop to that level.
Last year's elections have forced Obama to take a different tone in 2011. He knows that if he doesn't move to the center with his rhetoric, he and his party will take another beating in the 2012 election. So, he's paying lip service to the sentiments that were made apparent last fall.
But let's view the speech on its face for a moment and ignore the political context.
The first half of the speech about "investments" really didn't tout anything new. These are the same spending initiatives he's been promoting since he announced his candidacy. But make no mistake, what he’s now calling “investments” are really just the same old pet projects of the Left. Spend, spend, spend! A rose by any other name still has thorns, Mr. President.
The second half of the speech - while I liked many of the proposals (freezing spending, no earmarks, consolidating federal bureaus, etc.) was completely irreconcilable with the first half. When even the Associated Press feels inclined to fact check his math, you know he’s gone beyond the pale.
However, while freezing spending is certainly not the same as cutting spending, it's a move in the right direction. Of course, he’s really proposing nothing more than shutting the stable doors after the horses have bolted. The man runs up a larger deficit than all the presidents before him combined and NOW he seems to think that freezing spending at these astronomical levels is somehow sustainable?
I did find amusement in the fact that he proudly touted his new-found stances of freezing spending and vetoing earmarks. John McCain circa 2008 would be so proud… the irony is delicious.
In any event, Obama must be planning some serious budgetary shenanigans (akin to the ones they used to get the CBO to score their debt inducing Obamacare bill as "deficit neutral") to pursue all the "investment" projects he mentioned in the first half of the speech, but meet the budgetary goals he outlined in the second half. He might as well call his 2011 budget proposal "Error 404" because this mess does not compute.
I did like that he took a strong line about defeating the Taliban, but it's a shame that his first mention of the troops came 3/4 of the way into his hour-long speech, and even then he used it as a segway to talk about DADT - which, by the time activist courts get done with it, might end up costing the military billions upon billions of dollars in added same-sex partner benefits.
Back to the Taliban. It was a thrill when he said "we will defeat" the enemy - because that's about as close to mentioning the word "victory" as he's allowed himself to get. Baby steps, I suppose... But his tone was irreconcilable with his wrong-headed withdraw strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. We've already seen the violence in Iraq steadily increase, and the government there is really far too fragile to resist it.
Remember though, this was a guy who appealed to the right-of-center crowd throughout his campaign. One of his primary promises (later reaffirmed during his presidency) was that he was going to cut the deficit in half! Of course, he didn't mention that he was going to quadruple it first!
By the Heritage Foundation
I did like that he issued a more unifying tone (albeit because he had to). And I do like that he at least paid lip service to reducing spending (also because he had to). All in all, though, I think this may be as good a speech as we can "hope" to hear from Obama.
Paul Ryan: B
Ryan's address disappointed me. I love Paul Ryan and his road map, and I was really expecting him to lay the quantitative wood to Obama. If I were advising Ryan, I would have had him beat Americans over the head with numbers and stray away from general, sweeping appeals to pathos. The man's a policy wonk, not a prolific speaker!
All the same, he hit the right messages for the party. He strayed away from traditional GOP pitfalls (i.e.: alienating social statements), but his tone did seem decidedly more negative than Obama's. Of course, it needed to be (just as Obama's needed to be more positive) because of the current political reality.
All in all, Ryan did just fine. His remakrs will be soon fade from memory, but they were fine.
I liked last year's GOP response much better, and I thought it (by taking place in Virginia with a crowd) was absolutely the right way to add real energy and life to a rebuttal. Plus, last year's GOP response was dripping with Federalism - which I think will be the bread and butter of the Republican Party's road to the White House in 2012.
This year's response just sort of stood as a stark reminder that there's going to be some heavy, long-lasting political fights ahead. Sort of depressing really - and not in a way that motivated me to care more for the Republican Party or less for the Democrats.
Michele Bachmann: A-
I stood shoulder to shoulder with establishment Republicans who were worried about this address. Not because she would siphon votes away from Republicans to the Tea Party... just that she would siphon votes away from the Republican party - likely by saying something asinine (a la Carrie Prejean) that would, then, take the Right's intellectual elite days to squelch. Her remarks really had the potential to muddle the GOP's message if she made a fool of herself. Fortunately, she did not.
That being said, I have no problem with various caucuses issuing their own, more niched statements. I simply think the media made a bigger deal out of this than it was because they were hoping she'd say something ridiculous that could, in turn, be misattributed to the Tea Party at large. She did not.
Her's was a solid response, full of the type of quantitative smack downs I expected from Ryan. So, in retrospect, it happened to work out that the media hyped up her response... this time.