Monday, January 31, 2011

State of the Union 2011

Speech By: President Obama
Date: January 25, 2011
Location: House of Representatives
Occasion: State of the Union
It may be that he set the bar so high with his speech in Arizona, that any subsequent effort would be a mere shadow in its wake; or, maybe, it may be the nature of the speech itself, which is akin to a homeowners “to-do list” on a busy weekend – except this id for a nation of 300 million people, and for an entire year; and maybe, just maybe, it was the new seating arrangements, which not only blurred the partisan affiliation of the audience, but blunted their reaction to the speech, as well. Whatever the reason – the President’s State of the Union address was less than inspiring.

In fact, it would not be uncharitable to say it fell flat.

A State of the Union speech is assembled by a committee, the different agencies of government, the different interests among the public to whom the President wants to appeal, or to whom he owes a special thank you – and none of them are gathered in the same room to hear what the others have to say. It’s not a condition geared towards achieving excellence.

But last year’s speech was a solid effort.

This year’s speech was slightly shorter (about 300 words) than last year’s. But it seemed longer.

It may be that the new practice of having members of each party sit next to each other, diminished the enthusiasm, or the energy of the audience.

It may be, that sitting interspersed dilutes the effect of support for what the President is saying.

It occurs to me that the suggestion to mix up the seating came from one of the President’s own, now much reduced, party. Perhaps the idea was to distribute the President’s Democratic colleagues throughout the audience, and, in so doing, show more support throughout the House chamber than would otherwise have been exhibited. 

The problem seems to be that rather than distributing the President’s support more widely throughout the audience, it became diluted. If showing greater support was the intent, it was indeed a miscalculation.

As for the rhetoric of the speech itself, he appears to have abandoned the phrase “Let me be clear,” an expression which had become distressingly common in his earlier speeches. However, he still begins sentences with the word “And,” far too often. In this case, it was 49 times in 480 sentences. That’s more than 10 per cent of the time. The President, and his speech writers, can do better than that.

Finally, let’s talk about the catch-phrase of the speech “This is our Sputnik moment.” If you have doubts that this is the phrase the White House wanted to promote – go back and look at all the press coverage, just prior to, and just after the speech. Almost every outlet picked up on that phrase. 

Was that because it’s catchy, and has been on everyone’s lips in the days following the speech? No, it’s because the White House press office pushed it, thinking, or at least hoping, it would capture the public’s imagination.

Just one more miscalculation.

Length (words): 6945
Text Posted: The White House

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom


  1. Unlike Andrew Cuomo, Barack Obama was afraid to present the truth to the American people about the state of the union. But when you try to make things sound like they're okay and then ask people to sacrifice what do you think the answer is going to be?

  2. Thanks for commenting. I'm not sure it's a matter of being "afraid," as you describe it. It seems more likely that it's a matter of commitment to a political philosophy that is not compatible with the existing economic conditions.