Thursday, January 28, 2010

SOTU Recap: Was That Reagan in 1982?

I miss the days when State of the Union speeches typically lasted 40 to 45 minutes. Bill Clinton set the bar for insanely long speeches, stretching as long as 90 minutes some years. And President Barack Obama last night continued that ugly trend, going almost 75 minutes by my count.

Here's my quick recap on the good and the bad:

The Good
1. He was funny, self-deprecating and entertaining for the first half of the speech. I loved the line referring to health care "as should be clear by now, I didn't do it because it was good politics."
2. He stuck to his guns. Health care, still needed. Cap and Trade, get it done.
3. His explanation of the economic circumstances facing the country and his administration's approach was excellent.
4. He FINALLY loudly called for Congress to allow gays to serve openly in the military.

The Bad
1. No path forward - how are we to reconcile the political reality of today with the ambitions that he laid out.
2. False bi-partisanship - the repeated rhetoric of last November, with very little tangible action. We'll buy it when we actually see Democrats and Republicans working together.
3. Small ball, and not even good small ball - small business capital gains taxes? Are you serious? Small businesses aren't hiring because they can't get credit and don't have customers, not because their owner is worried that when he makes millions, he will have to pay a 15% tax. Not a single new big initiative.

In total, it was a decent, but fairly forgettable speech. I expect the President's approval to get a modest bump from the speech. It will do nothing in and of itself, to move congress forward. The President's actions in the coming weeks are critical if he is serious about getting real bi-partisanship or getting health care or cap and trade done. He's going to have to be a lot more directly involved in the process and a lot more active.

So, why the title of this blog? Take a look at the link below to view President Ronald Reagan's 1982 State of the Union Speech.

I watched it today because I was interested in how a different President, from a different party, reacted to similar economic circumstances. Interestingly, while the solutions proposed are different, the construct is remarkable similar. Both talk about the crisis they were handed. Both defended their programs, saying things would have been far worse without their actions. Both expressed optimism, without really committing to timelines or metrics for improvement. Both spent more than half of their speech on economic matters, with only small sections on foreign policy issues, despite the prominence of international concerns in their administrations.

It should be noted that Reagan's party went on to get smacked in November 1982, but that Reagan won in a landslide in 1984. We'll know in a few months whether the first half of that repeats for President Obama.

A few quick thoughts on Bob McDonnell's GOP response:
It was a very good response speech. Having a live audience worked much better than a single individual staring at a camera. And Gov. McDonnell (R-VA) is clearly a gifted communicator. The speech was respectful and upbeat, while drawing stark policy contrasts.

In short, it was much, much better than Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R-LA) awful response speech a year ago. While it would be early to suggest that a star was born last night, it is clear to me that McDonnell has the potential for higher office.

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