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US media react to Obama's State of the Union

Katie Connolly | 04:20 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Veteran reporter Howard Fineman did not enjoy all of Obama's speech, but writing in the Huffington Post he at least appreciated the change of tone from recent rancorous debates:

The bottom line is that, for an hour or so, the noise and accusatory tumult of our argumentative culture was totally gone. No one shouted "you lie!" No one said "Nooo!" No one jumped up in an aggressive effort to show up or challenge anyone else. It was as though talk radio did not exist, and both MoveOn and the Tea Party had disappeared.

Former political speech-writer Joshua Greenman concluded in his New York Daily News column that Obama's speech did the job:

Obama was optimistic, as we expect our presidents to be even in troubled times. He was bipartisan, continuing the clear swing to the centre that began after the midterm elections. And he weaved in enough specifics to give Americans hungry for hope something to latch on to - investments in roads, schools and scientific research. These investments may not deliver jobs next week, next month or maybe even next year. But they'll create fresh confidence that the economy is headed in the right direction, which most Americans doubt.

Gerald Seib, writing in the Wall Street Journal, wonders about Obama's decision to hark back to the Cold War space race:

The differences between now and the Sputnik era are significant... The government had ample resources then, and sags under deficits now. Trust in government was high then, but has plummeted since. Perhaps more important, for many Americans the economic future takes a back seat to lingering fears of the economic present. Many of them are likely to judge the president, as well as his Republican counterparts, above all on how many jobs they can create here and now.

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, who writes a blog about domestic and economic policy, liked the themes of Obama's speech, but bemoaned its lack of detail:

At more than 6,000 words, there was a lot in tonight's State of the Union. The bulk of it was a vision of what American economic policy should be pointed towards in the years to come: A country that has a better educated workforce, a more sophisticated infrastructure, and a more innovative economy than any other. A country where the public sector has an acknowledged and crucial role in supporting the private sector. But vision is there to support policy. And though there were a lot of policy proposals in the speech, there weren't enough specifics to really know where the president is going.

Mark Halperin of Time magazine thought the speech heralded a return to Mr Obama's inspirational, motivational best. He says a culmination of borrowed techniques from his predecessors helped make the speech great:

From Ronald Reagan, upbeat tales of American success stories, showcasing the real-life heroes sitting in the box with the First Lady. From Bill Clinton, rhetorical carrots dangled across the aisle - Obama cheerfully expressed an openness to medical malpractice reform, nuclear power, entitlement and tax reform, and changes in his cherished healthcare law - while drawing lines in the sand on issues where the American people support his positions by 70% plus. And from George W Bush, a confidence that if a president says he what he means and means what he says, he can't go wrong....Rehearsals with one of the Democratic Party's best speech coaches clearly paid off, allowing him to internalize the text and focus on conveying the emotion of the words with grace and spontaneity.

Jonathan Chait of the New Republic thought Mr Obama's transcending themes and ideas were communicated well:

I thought Obama explicated his idea about American unity better than he has in the past. The notion of unity has always sat in tension with the fierce ideological disagreement of American politics, and indeed the latter has served as a rebuke to the former. I thought Obama effectively communicated that the messiness of political debate is a part of what makes America great, to turn that into a source of pride. He simultaneously placed himself both within and above the debate.

Esteemed economist Paul Krugman, who writes for the New York Times, firmly disagrees with Mr Chait's take:

The best thing about the speech was exactly what most of the commentariat is going to condemn: Obama did not surrender to the fiscal austerity now now now types. Overall, however, I have no idea what the vision here was. We care about the future! But we don't want to spend! Meh.

Kevin Williamson, writing for the National Review, was not impressed by the speech. But it would seem that he isn't a fan of the tradition at all:

I hate, hate, hate the State of the Union speech, our republic's annual excursion into the abasing pomp of monarchy. But if you have to transform the president into a New Age totem, I suppose Obama is your guy: He's largely content-free. If he ever figures out that there is more to being president than giving speeches, our nation will truly be in trouble.

At the Atlantic magazine, Garance Franke-Ruta focused on the speech's political strategy, in particular, its use of buzz words:

Tonight is about many things, but one of them, perhaps encouraged by the pressures of the 140-character tweet stream, is KEYWORDS. Ones the White House is emphasizing: innovate, educate, build, reform, responsibility. Ones it is not: climate; gun; abortion(/choice/women's health); Clinton; Bush; Israel; Egypt; England.

Fred Kaplan of Slate says that the American innovation Mr Obama spoke of - the 'Sputnik moment' - nearly always relies, at least in part, on government help:

Toward the end of his speech, President Obama mentioned several entrepreneurs who in recent months have revamped their businesses to solve new crises and meet new demands. They're inspiring case studies. But if the US economy is going to do big things - and Obama said, twice, near the end of his speech, "We do big things" - they often don't get there without a spurt of government funding.

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