The Big Question: What do you think about Obama's speech?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.


Today's question:

What is your reaction to last night's State of the Union address from President Barack Obama? What did you think of the Republican response?


John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, said:

Overall, I was impressed by the President’s speech last night. It’s time for policymakers to work together on a bipartisan basis to solve the challenges facing our nation. Even with our economy on an upward trajectory, there remain multiple economic and social problems to be tackled, all without simple – or partisan – solutions. 

The President’s top priorities are and should be jobs and the economy. Our path to recovery will be slow and difficult with employment lagging behind other indicators. Therefore, pro-growth policies are a must to sustain this recovery.

A critical pathway to economic growth and job creation is increased engagement in international markets, so we’re encouraged by the President’s attention to this issue last night. He called for strengthening trade with Colombia, Panama and South Korea; we agree. Congress needs to pass the pro-job FTAs with these nations immediately to help American companies and workers expand their exports and grow the economy.

We also welcome President Obama’s attention to the deficit. His proposed freeze on discretionary spending is a small but symbolic first step on this issue. Taming the deficit will not be easy, but the choices facing our nation will only get more difficult the longer this issue gets pushed off. 

Last night’s speech was a positive start to a year riddled with complex challenges. Policymakers can now choose the difficult and counter-productive path of excessive partisanship, or the path the American people have repeatedly laid out for them – bipartisanship and effective leadership. Now is the time to translate the President’s encouraging words into positive action for American workers and companies.



Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women's Forum, said:

The 2010 State of the Union Address:  Comme Ci, Comme Ca
 
State of the Union addresses tend to always be utterly boring and disappointing affairs.  Last night’s address by the President was in many aspects a pleasant surprise and in other ways, somewhat disappointing.  The President clearly needed to show the American public that he understands our frustrations both with the bad economy and with what's been happening in Washington.  Rhetorically he did what needed to be done and did so much better than most in his position could ever contemplate doing.  His statements regarding his personal dislike of the bank bailout bill and not accepting second place for the United States resurrected the Obama that we have missed.  When the president remarked that “We are strong, we are resilient, we are American, and we don’t quit,” I was ready to sing the Star-Bangled Banner in a show of solidarity.  This is the Barack Obama the country overwhelmingly voted for and believe in.  However, this rhetoric is a far cry from pursuing and enacting policy measures that meet the President’s stated aspirations for our beloved country. 
 
The President’s focus on jobs, restoring “pay as you go”, freezing nonmilitary discretionary spending for three years, and education as the best anti-poverty program are all excellent starts.  The President offered some modest business tax relief proposals, which, depending on the details, might be useful.  Yet he also he committed to raising taxes on investment income and on top earners, many of which are actually small businesses. That hardly seems like good news for the economy. 
 
He saved health care until relatively late in the speech.  No doubt part of his “pivot” to jobs as his top priority, but he was still unclear about whether he wants to sell the current health care proposals which the American people have thoroughly rejected or whether he ready to start over. He says he's open to new ideas; all of us hope that’s true of the Congress.   
 
If the State of the Union is always a disappointment, the opposition party's response is even more so.  One would have expected more from the opposition related to the President’s request for a comprehensive clean energy bill and the effectiveness of the Recovery Act.  However, echoing the same message that brought him into office, Governor McDonnell effectively called for a jobs creation plan premised upon lower taxes and a smaller government—a message that resonates with Americans, who have become tired of subsidizing their neighbors' bad choices and irresponsibility. Overall, Gov. Bob McDonnell did a fine job, in what is always a tough and unenviable position.
 
The bottom line:  The American public deserves better from both Democrats and Republics.  Let’s translate that beautiful rhetoric to policies that make sense. 


A.B. Stoddard, Associate Editor of The Hill, said:

President Obama threw out many GOP ideas last night in his first State of the Union address, offering support for nuclear power and offshore drilling, and he paid great homage to small business throughout. But his speech really didn't represent a pivot or retreat many were expecting from a politically wounded president. Instead of changing course, Obama doubled down on his agenda -- urging the passage of health care reform and financial services reform and pledging to work with the Senate to pass a climate change bill, something every Republican and most Democrats will concede is DOA. Because he wasn't proposing much of anything new Obama should probably have spent more time articulating his "new foundation" for the economy, just why his agenda can rebuild our dessimated economy and how his controversial, ambitious proposals connect. Finally, the message was also supposed to re-inspire and energize a frightened and discouraged Democratic party but it didn't seem to succeed. On health care reform Obama made a perfunctory case but didn't appear to insist on it, on a spending freeze already unpopular in his party he issued his first veto threat and on energy he was talking again about leading on a bill he knows is nearly impossible to garner 60 votes and is promising once again to get involved in congressional deliberations though he never actually does. I imagine Democrats were left wanting more.
 
Gov. Bob McDonnell was a terrific choice for the GOP and the setting of the Virginia statehouse was quite effective. Previous SOTU responses done by members of the opposing party are traditionally done by the person alone in  a room and when badly done look like someone making a basement video for YouTube. McDonnell surrounded himself with energetic supporters and presented Republican principles in a smart, calm and affable manner. He won Virginia, a state Obama won by a wide margin, in a landslide in November without attacking Obama. And he is a comer in the Republican party for sure.


Craig Newmark, creator of Craigslist and a Pundits Blog contributor, said:

The President focused on helping get the country back on the right track,
placing country above politics. I'd like to see the opposition emulate
that.


Bruce E. Gronbeck, professor of Political Communication at the University of Iowa, said:

For me, the most fascinating aspect of the 2010 State of the Union address was its near-constant change of tone.  President Obama at times celebrated, confessed, lectured, disarmed with frankness, joked, reached out, hectored, surprised, inspired.  He was a moving target, with each of the speech's topics treated in its own way.  My favorite section was his treatment of energy initiatives.  Who would have assumed he'd start with nuclear power, off-shore drilling, and clean coal?  Obviously not the Republicans in their response, which assumed he would be rejecting off-shore exploration. 

Evident as well was his start of the 2010 bye-election themes he will emphasize:  his crafting of a populist political persona, his attack on a "just say no" opposition, his increased use of executive authority to pursue initiatives in the face of gridlock in the Senate.  The Massachusetts election results obviously concerned him as much as it has energized the Republicans. 

The Republicans were right:  this was not a review of "the state of the union," which for me is typified by Ronald Reagan's 1981 economic analysis or Bill Clinton's 1997 call for  needed bridges to the 21st century.  It harked back rather to 19th-century calls for change in tones that sometimes approached Andrew Jackson's.  Indeed, the storms that have swirled around Obama in 2009 are reminiscent of those that engulfed Old Hickory.  Both worked populist themes, with mixed results.  And so the speech showed much more about the state of man than that of the union.


John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said:

In the face of rising opposition (even antipathy) to his agenda, President Obama did not back away from what he wants to do to America in his State of the Union speech.  His focus on the need for jobs was welcome.  But his contention that government can and should create the jobs is completely wrong. We can only hope that the swell of opposition to his many plans (healthcare, more environmental controls, mere minuscule spending cuts) will continue to grow and continue to block his agenda.
 
As for the Republican response delivered by Virginia Governor McDonnell, it was generally good but what was most needed wasn't an urging that Mr. Obama and Congress "enact policies that promote entrepreneurship."  What is most needed is a call for terminating numerous government agencies that cost billions and impede the creation of real jobs by American businessmen.
 
Less government, not better or more efficient government, is the answer to America's unemployment and numerous other ills.


John Feehery, Pundits Blog contributor, said:

Point, counterpoint

The president finished strong in his first State of the Union speech, but then he ran into Bob McDonnell, who reminded independent voters why they have been turning against Mr. Obama over the last six months or so.

As the president entered the House chamber, he consciously turned to his right for most of his walk down the center aisle, as if to say to the Republicans, “Hey guys, I’m not so bad.”

He didn’t have Hillary Clinton to kiss as he marched closer to the rostrum (she decided to stay in Europe), but he turned back to his left as he got closer to the teleprompters.

His speech followed suit. He continued to feint right, but he couldn’t help himself as he faded to the left.

He talked about how his stimulus bill cut taxes (really? I must have missed that memo), but then hinted how he was going to tax the so-called rich and the bankers and a bunch of other people he hasn’t named yet...

(To read the rest of John Feehery's thought go to the Pundits Blog.)


Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, said:

Well, I see the President read my suggestion, made yesterday, that he minimize mentions of the two wars we are currently fighting: either that, or else we’re just on the same wave-length. There was very little foreign policy talk in this SOTU, and that was the usual disingenuous happy-talk.

The President claimed “all” of our troops are coming home from Iraq – this in spite of repeated statements by military commanders and other US officials that at least 50,000 will be staying indefinitely, and will furthermore be engaged in combat operations alongside the Iraqis.

Oh, but there was never any chance of a Republican yelling out “You lie! – not this time. Although I had some hope that Dennis Kucinich might be up for it – but, no….

The President’ brief Afghanistan spiel was but a rehash of his escalation speech, complete  with a reiteration of his pledge to “begin” withdrawing by next summer – a promise universally derided as less than sincere.

Focusing on the economy, the President blamed his predecessor for “not paying for wars” – and then turned around and declared his vaunted spending “freeze” would not include any military appropriations. Given that our war-spending is now totaling $1 trillion and rising since 2001, this huge exception reduces all talk of a “freeze” to mere rhetorical posturing.

The President has no time for foreign policy: he’s too busy campaigning, in spite of his protests last night that he doesn’t want to engage in a “permanent campaign.” That’s why he’s ceded the foreign policy realm to his secretary of state. You’ll note Hillary wasn’t here last night: that’s because she was in London, trying to get our allies help with the burden of occupying and policing Afghanistan and environs.

I think Barack Obama will share the fate of another US chief executive with an ambitious domestic agenda that was undermined by foreign policy disasters: Lyndon Baines Johnson, a one-term president whose “Great Society” was fatally undermined by the Vietnam war.


Peter Navarro, professor of Economics and Public Policy at U.C. Irvine, said:

On the economy, the president had all of the right goals but mostly wrong policies.  Case in point: promoting exports.  The most direct way to reduce our trade imbalance and boost exports would be to brand China a currency manipulator and force them to revalue the yuan – or face appropriate duties.  Nary a word of this or any of China’s unfair trade practices. 
 
The best jobs program for America is trade reform with China – they grow at 10% a year, our unemployment rate is at 10%.  Do the math.


Dean Baker,  co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said:

This would have been a great speech if the unemployment rate was 5.0 percent. As it is, he has proposed nothing that addresses the severity of the problem and the spending freeze suggests that he is more concerned about the politics than about getting unemployment down.


Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit said:

Obama's churlishness has backfired, however, as Justice Alito's murmured "No, not true," was picked up by the cameras.  Through his failure to act Presidential, he has managed to upstage himself.  It is time for Obama to develop a ittle respect for the office that he now holds -- and to demonstrate the degree of self-discipline that the office requires of its holders, at least the successful ones.