So last Wednesday night, as I did before for the last presidential debate, I sat down and took notes in order to more effectively blog about one of the biggest set-pieces of American political pageantry, the State of the Union address. Thankfully CNN was blessedly hands off about ancillary analysis/data during the actual address this time, which made for a refreshingly focused experience. What I got out of it was a sense that the speech generally achieved it’s goals: while it hasn’t singlehandedly saved his presidency (to the extent it really needs to be this early on), but it has probably successfully broken the media narrative of a political tailspin that took hold following the Brown victory and the inevitable speculation on the death of healthcare reform.  In that way it’s bought him some valuable breathing room in which to dig his administration out of a still-deepening rut of public opinion.

Obama vs the GOP: The most obvious target of the president’s carrots and sticks, as he alternately offered to cooperate with them while browbeating them for stonewalling. He actually did throw them several bones:  a willingness to drill baby drill (an effort as useless as it is expensive) and expand the use of nuclear power (which is actually a good idea), and emphasizing his record/plans for tax cuts (to surprisingly mixed results in terms of applause). Meanwhile they raced to get out of their seats at the mention of the jobs bill, and while I know they can’t afford to be seen as so much as being in the same neighborhood as anything that isn’t job creation, I wonder if they realize they’re basically applauding the second stimulus bill.  At the same time they refused to join Obama in some of the more gleefully populist portions of the speech (esp the early bank bashing and Obama’s proposals to stop outsourcing), which begs the question of just how concerned about the perceptual power of applause they really are. Also, I’m not sure attempting to browbeat the GOP in this forum, pleasurable though it is, is how we move past the era of hyperpartisanship. Finally, as much as I join many in wanting to see Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed, I don’t see him being able to work with republicans on the issue since they’re still in the process of being eaten alive by cultural conservatism and reigniting the culture wars hardly makes matters easier.

Obama vs the Democratic Party: Neither were the Democrats spared from a bit of “encouragement”, which has become painfully necessary as their natural reflex to run and hide at the first sign of adversity has unfortunately asserted itself in the wake of the Brown election. It’s especially sad when a party has to be reminded it actually still holds a substantial majority. Several wakeup calls especially resounded: while recognizing the rout, Obama has refused to surrender the day on healthcare (and let’s be honest, its not as if he could afford serving the GOP that huge of a political victory at this point). In creating a budget commission by executive order where the senate already rejected it, he has given congress the bitchslap it has so richly deserved, caught as it is between democratic fecklessness and GOP intransigence. Finally, talk of the spending freeze made Nancy Pelosi almost visibly squirm, and while she’ll be able to placate her constituents somewhat with the Don’t Ask push, rallying the democrats will be nigh impossible in the midst of trying to take away the one power that makes them worth hiring in the first place in the eyes of many voters.

Obama vs The Economy: And of course there’s the other great issue of our time, and probably the thorniest: trying to sell the benefits of the economic recovery even though many of those benefits have yet to materialize. Yes it’s great that the banks didn’t collapse and we’re not in a depression, but that’s cold comfort to a nation still saddled with debt at every level and facing a merciless jobs market. Trying to sell yourself on a platform of  “At least things aren’t WORSE!” isn’t going to woo any but the wonkiest of voters, and people are going to ask the fundamental question: Am I better off now than I was 2-4 years ago? In addition, some of his specific proposals were a tad worrying: vowing to increase exports is great, but what exactly are we going to be producing? Factories can’t just be willed from the earth, as the Midwest knows only too well. Also he proposed using the recovered bailout money to give loans to small businesses, which sounds great except for the part where loosening the credit spigot is what caused this whole mess in the first place. Finally, a bit of disingenuous speech on his part  in saying he’s “not interested in punishing banks.” Yes you are and you’re even banking a polling increase on it (no pun intended).

And now a quick runthrough of the peanut gallery:

Tim Geithner looked constipated, and not without due cause.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden fulfilled the OTHER critical role of the Vice President: Presidential Bobblehead.

Michelle Obama continues to be the most stainless woman in Washington, which makes her a trump card if she’s played in the cause of a healthcare PR offensive.

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