Posted by Brad @ 11:46 pm on February 24th 2009

The Speeches

I didn’t liveblog, though I should have. Obama’s address was surprisingly forceful and very well constructed. He spent a great deal of time re-framing matters, acknowledging the views of the other side, and essentially co-opting them. He expressed the populist backlash better than most of the backlashers have been able to, and redirected it outward. I also very much like how he cast health care reform as first and foremost a fiscal issue. And, in terms of tone and whatnot, I think Sully’s reader captures it:

Sitting here watching the speech I have been thinking that something is wrong. My first thought was that he is talking too fast. Then it dawned on me: he knows what he is talking about and expecting me to keep up. After eight years of being talked to like a child (or an idiot), my president is speaking to me like I am an intelligent adult. This is going to take some getting used to.

All in all, it reminded me of watching an outstanding 1AR in my high school debate days. You listen to 13 minutes (or in this case, weeks) of negative argumentation, and then a great affirmative rebuttal comes along and, in a breezy five minutes (or in this case, an hour), makes you sit back and think “well shit; what else is there to say?” This speech had that effect on me.

And Jindal, for his part, did nothing to dispel that. In fact, what was most striking about it was how nearly everything substantive Jindal brought up, Obama had already talked about, only it made a lot more sense (and sounded a lot better) when Obama said it. Tax cuts, reinvesting in the middle class and small businesses, energy reform, deficit wrangling, and the foundations of American innovation and believing in the American people. It was like the same speech Obama gave, only given by somebody who sounded mildly retarded. It left me scratching my head and trying to figure out what, exactly, the Republican agenda is. Even Peggy Noonan (or whoever that is speaking on MSNBC right now) agrees with me, saying “I…I’m not quite sure that Jindal actually read Obama’s speech before he wrote his.”

The only material that was original and not utterly preempted and owned by Obama immediately beforehand were all of Jindal’s odes to Louisiana and his personal anecdotes, which amazingly made up about 40% of his response. You could almost read it on his face. “Obligatory Republican stuff, obligatory Republican stuff…but how about me, folks? Bobby Jindal, comin’ atchya!”

All in all, a very good night for the President.


  1. In other news, the fair and balanced producers at MSNBC can’t even wait the 2 seconds for Bobby Jindal to start speaking before rolling their eyes. Here they are, as he enters the room:

    Comment by Brad — 2/24/2009 @ 11:56 pm

  2. Do you even listen to yourself anymore? Wow.

    Comment by James — 2/25/2009 @ 12:19 am

  3. James, which part?

    Seriously, be specific about this kind of thing or stop posting comments like that.

    Just out of curiosity, is it impossible to believe Obama did well and Jindal not so much without being “in the bag” for Obama? Or is it just me that’s not allowed to hold opinions like that?

    Comment by Brad — 2/25/2009 @ 12:20 am

  4. A. Obama did a fine job. But promising lots of stuff is easy. I especially liked the “finding a cure for cancer” part. I guess he is saving everlasting life for his SOTU speech, heh.

    B. Jindal did not do well. People who present rebuttals to presidential speeches never do and in fact it tends to be a an anchor around the neck of whoever does them in terms of upward mobility.

    Comment by James — 2/25/2009 @ 12:03 pm

  5. EVERY Republican response ought to be delivered by Fred Thompson from that office chair of his.

    Not kidding. He’s ridiculously good in that format.

    Comment by Rojas — 2/25/2009 @ 5:27 pm

  6. Yeah he is.


    A. It was indeed a very ambitious speech—every one of its type contains stuff like it (or have you forgotten Bush’s Manned Mission to Mars by 2010?). But for the most part, what Obama was promising, at least in action, is doable. I like Ross Douthat’s take:

    Obama was fantastic – worlds better than his inaugural. He laid out the most ambitious and expensive domestic agenda of any Democratic President since LBJ, and did it so smoothly that you’d think he was just selling an incremental center-left pragmatism. I think that he has an acute sense – more acute than most people in Washington, probably – of just how much running room is open in front of him at the moment, and he intends to make the absolute most of it. Burkean temperament or no, this was not a Burkean speech by any stretch: It was the speech of a man seeking to turn a moment of crisis into a domestic-policy revolution, and oozing confidence from every pore along the way.

    B. The whole “opposition party response” thing does indeed make people look bad, to some extent. And certainly the delivery was a problem, but that wasn’t primarily what I was talking about.

    What I was talking about is the total void of an opposition agenda. Seriously, go read the speech, or indeed any major counter-argument from GOP opposition, and tell me if you can ferret out a specific agenda for it. I sure can’t. It’s not even “we shouldn’t do anything and let the chips fall where they may”—Republicans are calling for action, they’re just not quite clear on what actions they’re calling for. Tax cuts? Which ones, and to whom? No pork? When they do call for things—infrastructure spending, tax cuts to the middle class, energy independence—it’s almost as if it’s totally lost on them that what they’re opposing includes those things. Making the question: okay, how are you proposing we do it better? Republicans aren’t really saying.

    That was what got me about Jindal’s address last night. It’s more than just Obama preempting criticism in his speech—he’s more or less done it in his actions too. I’m a pretty smart guy, but even I can’t ferret out what exactly the GOP would be doing right now if they were in charge of everything again. Can you?

    Remember when that was your big criticism of the Democratic party, them not being able to answer the question “what would you do?”, and instead just settling into being a party of “no”? Well, that’s exactly where the GOP has settled today, only a lot more smugly and meanly.

    The Next Right has the smartest breakdown of the response’s faults. Read the whole thing, but the conclusion is most apropos:

    Bobby Jindal is one of the GOP’s “rising stars” – its hard to deny that. But he has already fallen into the trap that so many politicians in this party have fallen into over the last decade. He has become a black hole of ideas who came off as dedicated to little more than opposing the Democratic agenda out of some kind of Hatfield/McCoy type rivalry, and he did it by appealing to the lowest common denominators of both our society, and our culture.

    Gone were the big ideas. Gone was the serious conversation about this country’s future. Gone was communicating like an adult.

    Things like this are about political instincts. People like Barack Obama smell a vacuum, realize what is missing in their own party, and then proceed to fill that vacuum with the force of their personality.

    Jindal had the chance to do that tonight, but did not.

    Now, this would be a one-off example of a missed opportunity if it was not a pretty good summation of the entire force of thought (or more accurately, the total lack thereof) in the Republican party since 2004. I say this not because I am an avid Barack-backer or whatever you think me as. It’s true that I’m willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, and I am not yet resolved to assuming that everything Obama tries is Bad and Will Fail. I’m generally disinclined to accept the same set of premises as he is, but those premises aren’t fundamentally insane or anything, and given that nobody seems to be offering a better answer, I’m willing to let him take the ball and run with it.

    What bothers me about the Republican response is because it robs us of an adult conversation, it robs us of alternatives. Obama’s agenda is not a surprise; the scope and breadth of his thinking and the specifics of his policy notions aren’t something he sprung on us from beneath a magician’s cloak. He ran on all these ideas, and won handedly. And he’s still winning handedly.

    Republicans have had plenty of time to craft a message, and not only have they not, they haven’t even really tried. Just “no no no”. If the argument is that we need to take a pointed lack of action, then fine, make that argument. But that’s not the Republican position. The Republican position appears to be an amorphous program of doing exactly what Obama is doing, but on taxes don’t roll back the Bush tax cuts, do…I don’t know, something about the deficit (?), on spending “don’t spend on pork” (which is a little like saying “make people stop being mean”), and then just a laundry list of ridiculously small ball talking points that have no consistent theme and don’t recommend any specific point of action.

    Obama is doing exactly what he should be doing. He is taking a cohesive and consistent perspective, taking it to the American people and all interested parties and making his case for that perspective, getting the votes behind it and then implementing it.

    Republicans are doing nothing but whining that Washington no longer bends or goes rigid according to what the Republican party has to say that day.

    Comment by Brad — 2/25/2009 @ 5:53 pm

  7. The Republicans had a pretty specific alternative plan to the Obama stimulus package, Brad. The principal ingredient was tax cuts. I’m no more fond of the Republican approach to stimulus than the Obama one, but it’s incorrect to keep trotting out the claim that they don’t HAVE a plan. What they have is a plan that isn’t resonating in the media.

    Comment by Rojas — 2/25/2009 @ 7:15 pm

  8. But which tax cuts? Obama, remember, instantiated 450 billion dollars worth of them in the stimulus plan (and did not raise any). Aside from a preemptive resistance to rolling back the Bush tax cuts, can you name for me what aspects of Obama’s tax cutting they objected to, or what specific taxes or tax rates they felt needed more cutting, and by how much?

    I think you’re giving them too much credit. The “tax cuts” line isn’t attached to any specific proposed compromise or policy that I’m aware of; it’s just hollow dogma. But maybe there’s some concrete opposition agenda that I just haven’t heard or seen. I’ve yet to see their tax cuts line attached to anything specific, but maybe that’s just my own myopia. Tell me, specifically, what you’re referring to.

    Comment by Brad — 2/25/2009 @ 7:27 pm

  9. David Brooks, for once, gets it.

    Thankfully, some signs that the Republican party is starting to get it. Here’s hoping.

    Comment by Brad — 2/25/2009 @ 7:44 pm

  10. Brad, your points are fair to a point with regard to Obama’s delivery, but I still will never agree with most of his policies. You are definitely right with regard to Jindal. His performance was just plain bad.

    I guess what still baffles me is that you are/were such a staunch Paul supporter and Congressman Paul is horrified by what is being proposed and implemented by this administration and its allies in Congress. Do you no longer support Ron Paul and/or his positions? I am not trying to be a pain, I am just confused by what appears to me to be something of an about face since Paul dropped out of the Republican race last year and Obama rose though the nomination to the presidency.

    Oh, and Rojas, you are spot on about Fred Thompson and rebuttals. He is one that slipped my mind. I must have been blinded by Tim Kaine’s bouncing left eyebrow.

    Comment by James — 2/25/2009 @ 8:35 pm

  11. On Brad’s question.

    The question of what approach best stimulates economic activity is an open one among economists. My position, again, is that both efforts are attempts to dodge the deeper economic issues that need facing up to.

    But the Republican plan is a piece of concrete policy, not some sort of pie-in-the-sky talking point.

    Comment by Rojas — 2/25/2009 @ 8:44 pm

  12. Yes, but will it cure cancer?

    Comment by James — 2/25/2009 @ 8:51 pm

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