State of the Union address: Analysis by the Post's Robert G. Kaiser

Jan 25, 2011

Post Associate Editor Robert G. Kaiser will be online Tuesday, Jan. 25, at 10 p.m. to analyze President Obama's State of the Union address.

We advertised a 10 p.m. beginning for this chat, but the president had other ideas. I'll wait until he has finished to begin.  But you don't have to wait to post questions or comments... Be back soon.

OK, let's get going. I will start with an obvious comment: This was not your every-day, or every-year, state of the union address.  Obama worked for days on this speech, and I thought the product benefited from the effort.  Please give me your appraisals of the speech and its contents, or anything else you'd like to share.

were lacking in many of the topics addressed, but I think the President, very shrewdly, challenged Congress to come up with ideas to solve problems (vs. simply blaming him for said problems), exercise intellectual honesty and be mindful of those less fortunate.

I think you make an important point. Obama's goal here was not anything "specific."  I'd describe his goal as establishing himself as the one national leader who is ready, indeed eager, to be the common-sense, moderate man of action who wants to confront a huge country's huge problems.  He avoided virtually all the stale Washington arguments we've all heard again and again over the last six years, and tried to focus attention on what has to be his best hope, politically and practically--the future.

Is it just me or is this speech just one "we're gonna" "we've gotta" and "now we must work together to...." I'm for the guy, but this speech is list after list after list...after list. Time to move forward as one nation -- it's just words. I'm very disappointed. So far.

So you heard it differently! More power to you. As I've said here many times, I have no idea how others react to these events, and begin these chats every time filled with trepidation about the reliability of my own instincts.

Which Cabinet member was missing (hidden away in the secure bunker)?

Ken Salazar insured our safety tonight.

Hello. What I find particularly offensive about the buzz, regarding R's and D's sitting together, is that Gabriel Giffords's life is being a bit trivialized by this. There seems to be too much "quipping" about the cuteness factor of the moment for my taste. Jim

Not sure what Jim's point is here. Repubs and Dems sitting together trivializes Giffords' life? Don't get it, sorry.

What's the status of people switching seats as a sign of bipartisanship? Thanks.

Well, it happened. I sense a healthy fear in both Congressional parties that each may be blamed for reverting to the partisan warfare of recent times, so both are looking for ways to look innocent.  Tonight was easy; the big tests of course are yet to come.  And the partisan warfare has been going on for 30 years (as has the deficit spending, though Obama claimed incorrectly that that began just a decade ago).

Look, I like lower taxes as much as anyone, and while our corporate tax rate is high, isn't it true that the effective corporate tax rate of the United States is actually about average for OECD countries?

I'm sorry that I don't know the OECD averages (members of the OECD are the rich democracies, generally) but I do know that our corporate tax code, like our income tax code, is irrational, unfair and inconsistent because, as Obama noted, it is riddled with special treatments and exceptions.  Obama blamed lobbyists for creating this reality, curiously. Last time I looked, lobbyists didn't get to enact laws, or loopholes--members of Congress do those things.

I liked the lack of rah-rah applause tonight and thought the atmosphere was appropriately somber given our current state of affairs and in the wake of the Tucson tragedy. Quite frankly, I found it very refreshing. It will be interesting to see how the President's speech itself is parsed (spun?)by the media and both parties.

Thanks for the comment. I too await with interest the punditocracy's responses. I think it's likely that this speech will play well in that world, as Obama's Tucson speech did, because it cleverly avoided so many of the pitfalls of the current political hostilities.

D's & R's sitting next to each other was good symbolism and a good start at working together. They should do more of this.

Thanks for the comment. I think at least some of them agree with you--at least for now.

I liked Obama's call for things like major education reform and clean energy innovation, but I find it very difficult to believe we'll see any real progress on these fronts in the next couple years. The Republicans didn't even applaud his call for clean energy.

thanks for the comment.

what is the reason for the black and white ribbons that they all seemed to be wearing?

They are meant to symbolize solidarity with the victims of the Tucson shootings.  Their use was promoted by Sen. Gillibrand of New York and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Flordia, according to my ace researcher, Alice Crites.

I think the rhetoric behind the speech was effective and the poetic moments had liftoff. One thing missed was really tying those investment areas to deficit reduction. The country, perhaps the media in particular, needs a better education on this. There are three components to deficit reduction: raising taxes, cutting spending and growing the pie (which BOTH increases revenues and decreases the need for future costs). We lose sight of that last piece, Republicans don't address it at all, and it's the fundamental reason for investment in education, infrastructure, and R&D. But the American people need to understand better that it's an alternative -- and vastly preferable route to the same goal: a better economic future for the country.

Thanks for the comment. Didn't Obama refer to your argument himself?

Can someone please tell those who rebut ANY President's SOTU speech to stop speaking as if they're addressing three year-olds? It is unbelievably patronizing, and undermines any credibility the speaker may have previously had as a politician (remember Bobby Jindal?). It's a shame, because I know these politicians are more substantive than their rebuttal speeches would imply.

Ryan I thought played into Obama's hands. Obama said, in effect, hey, we have some huge problems, let's role up our sleeves and get to work. Ryan said there's an ideology we all need to embrace or we're doomed. My hunch is that Ryan loses that argument with the independent voters who now hold the balance of power in our politics.

However, I could be wrong!

I don't know about you, Mr. Kaiser, but I was so thrilled to hear an intelligent ADULT address the nation after so many nonsensical SOTU addresses, most recently from Flight Suit Boy. My sense is that Obama is on a roll. Your thoughts?

Thanks for the comment. Obama has had a very good two months, for sure. I saw tonight's speech very much in the context of his reelection campaign. I wonder what Mitt Romney was thinking when he watched it?

What does it say about personalities and mental toughness or lack thereof of the Supreme Court Justices who did not attend the SOTU speech? During a time when Democrat and Republican politicians put aside their partisanship and sat together, those who are suppose to represent this country's best legal minds chose to break tradition (precedent) and not attend simply because there might have been a critical sentence or two in the speech. Was it for spite that Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas did not to attend (notwithstanding Alito's excuse of being in Hawaii for a speaking engagement)? If these Justices can't stand (or sit if you will) to possibly hear a contrary point of view, what assurance is there that these 3 Justices make legal decisions dispassionately -- in accordance with their Oath?

Whoa, your facts are a little garbled.  For many years now, the court has been divided over whether or not to take part in the SOU. Chief Justice Rehnquist in his last years decided he shouldn't be there--some thought his role in Bush v. Gore pushed him in that direction.  All the justices have not been in the House chamber for an SOU in my memory, which, I must confess, covers a lot of years now. Our Justices are NOT part of our political debate; they live in their own world, and should.

Government spending was crucial to the semiconductor, personal computer, radar, the Internet, and so much more. Why is it so hard for Republicans to understand that government can do basic research and development without "picking winners"?!?

Thanks for the comment. I thought Obama was particularly effective reminding his audience about the impact of the space program and other government "investments" in the past.  I have waited for many years for a conservative who opposes all such government spending to effectively dispute the position you (and I) believe in here.  Still waiting.

Do you know if Stan Greenberg had a focus group watching with him this time? I love when you interrupt the chat to bring the results from Greenberg's focus group. It helps me survive the attention-starved pundits.

Thanks for this reminder!  I have just tried to dial into the conference call and hope I can give you something shortly.

Having long watched the SOTU, I'm struck by all the brightly-colored jackets in the room these days -- in other words, that there are so many more female Senators and Representatives than there used to be decades ago. I think this sends a terrific message to girls and young women that there's a place for them in politics (as opposed to it being largely reserved for white men).

Here, here! Although don't get carried away--many European parliaments have a lot more women members than our Congress does.

This is Stan Greenberg's early commentary. He watched with 50 Colorado voters, many quite cool to him, none Democrats or avowed liberals. This was a big focus group, in effect.  Greenberg says the speech was "a personal triumph" for Obama. The speech brought a big shift in his personal approval rating, which shot up with this group.  It went up 26 percent in this group. "The most unique thing about the speech was the unified response" to it.  He also found that his 50 voters had very similar reactions, regardless of their political preferences. "I've never seen a president so successful in moving people together."

To follow up on the previous comment thread in which some viewers wanted more specifics from the President: I think that Paul Ryan's response had no specifics. There was the expected rebuttal to the President's policy and positions, particularly on health care and spending but no specifics on job creation or what areas of the budget should be cut aside from the catch phrase pre-2008 budget. Did I miss something?

As always, the Republican response was written before its author(s) had seen Obama's speech.

I thought this was a great speech for geeks. Can't remember a SOTU speech advocating so near the beginning, and with such emphasis, education and technology and innovation, as Obama did tonight. I am happy to hear it.

thanks for the comment.

After all the parsing and scrutinizing is done, I think this speech was aimed directly at independent voters. I consider myself one... I understand the limits of any given speech... And liked what I heard about shared accountability. Platitudes or details notwithstanding, I'm looking for an approach (or the start of a conversation about and approach) that puts us all in the boat.

and thank you too.

I was really surprised his comment about reorganizing government to be more streamlined, etc, got almost no applause. Any thoughts on why?

Inteesting point. Our Congress is now dominated by political warriors, not policy wonks. Government reognization turns on wonks, not warriors. That would be my explanation anyhow.

I liked the speech and the manner in which he presented himself. The effect was moderate and very human. Nobody can say that it was just a political speech - although it was definitely a defining reelection campaign moment: future, common sense, optimism. It outlined some clear goals and laid down some clear challenges: research, clean energy, prioritizing education, getting things done, fix what needs to be fixed and move on, immigration, tax reform. Obama is a thoughtful, gentle man - and he came across as such. The speech was inspiration in his thoughtful, gentle manner.

Thanks for this. It is, I'm sure, the reaction Obama wanted to evoke.

I usually find it interesting to watch / read / listen to post- game analysis, but the post SOTU commentary makes me think I had something else on tv - I just heard NBC call the speech "boring" and the lack of partisanship as a detriment. Maybe I'm biased because I like and trust the messenger, but I found myself thinking how much this speech made me feel like an adult - part of a broader group charged with solutions, rather than listening for a line designed to pander to my basest impulse. Just my thoughts

Thanks for this. I feel lucky that because I'm here anwering your questions and comments, I don't have to watch those talking heads, who seem to me to be increasingly divorced from the country, and often from reality.

Doesn't Obama face a huge communications challenge over the next two years? Doesn't he have to convince a lot of Americans that his version of reality is actually closer to real than the one being offered by the Republicans on Capitol Hill? Will this speech help him in this regard?

This is the crux of the matter. We really do have conflicting versions of reality in our political debate now. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late senator from New York, used to say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. Hah. We've thrown that thought out the window in recent years.  Look, for example, at the rhetoric tonight about the bailouts and stimulus. Obama said they prevented an economic disaster and helped end the worst recession of the last 70 years. Ryan said they were a failure.

This is not the place to try to resolve this argument, but there is a lot of evidence that interested voters can consider.  Start by asking your own broker or banker, if you have one, what would have happened if there had been no (Bush) bailout or (Obama) stimulus. People in the money business, in my experience, are remarkably united in their views about these questions: Nearly all of them agree that we might well have had another Great Depression without those two big interventions by the government.  But Republicans in Congress won't hear of it.

I thought Mark Shields and Michael Gerson, moderated by Jim Lehrer, were quite thoughtful over on PBS.

glad to hear it. they are two of my (very small number of) favorites.

The President was most generous to Boehner, who reciprocated by tearing up (again). They had the appearance of two men on the brink of a better working relationship. Not always in agreement, but better mutual appreciation.

we'll see...

OK, time to call it a night. This was another reminder of the high quality of washingtonpost.com readers. Thanks to all for their comments. Hope to "see" you here again before too long.

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Robert G. Kaiser
Robert G. Kaiser is Associate Editor of The Washington Post.
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