Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama's economic speech, graded

A bonus today: Allan Louden, whom readers of last fall know as The Ballot's political professor, watched one more speech for us - Barack Obama's economic address to Congress last night.

Louden, a debate scholar and political communications professor at Wake Forest University, informed and entertained Ballot readers since the primaries with his insightful analysis of ads, speeches and debates.

He expected Obama's state of the union-ish speech to be sober and reassuring. What did he get?

The Professor says:

If one had an ounce of patriotism flowing in their veins, it would be impossible to remain unmoved as the President of the United States was introduced to the chamber last night. Ideology be damned, it felt good to envision a can-do-attitude, an America that works, buoyancy in the face of permeating pessimism.

I have been critiquing Obama’s rhetoric for almost a year now. I noticed my commentary has increasingly been disillusioned with the power of his speeches, or at least his choice for a muted voice.

In that vein, I envisaged his intentional blandness to continue with last night’s speech. State-of-the-Union speeches, in general, have a way of disappointing. The build up is intense; the speeches are often little more than laundry lists of vague policy initiatives, almost guaranteed to disappoint.

Yet what I witnessed was from a rhetorical perspective among the best in this genre I heard, surely since Reagan’s first State-of-the-Union. And it is a truism of those who follow political communication that rhetorical skill often translates into real political authority.

Obama’s “State-of-the-Union” may have been an imitation of the formal address, but he was not a simulation of a president in charge.

Constructing Optimism

The speech began with a positive tone, a compliment to the American character and ingenuity and continued with Obama the positivist, as Obama ticked off a myriad of issues. It was Obama not as magician or allegorical high priest, but rather the logician, the empiricist positing lines of reasoning and facts. Topics were discussed, not exhorted; plain yet cutting in their directness.

This alone describes a speech that should have been tedious and tiresome, yet that was not the outcome in Obama’s hands. It worked. What follows is a selective tour of how Obama amends the commonplace.

Obama used the power of defining that only resides with the president. His words change how we see issues and policy. Even a looming depression was distanced by America’s character:

"The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth."

Donning the role of historian, he defines an “opportunity in crisis,” the inevitability of revival:

"In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world."

Obama never strayed far from the political pulse even as he redefined. Obama scolded bankers and asked for their survival. He summarized, “It’s not about helping banks, it’s about helping people.”

Even the budget was rhetorically transformed.

"So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future."


Surely Obama will be criticized for taking on too much, and perhaps that will be the case. Yet Obama has a way of assimilating issues so they are not separate schemes but entwined in a larger portrait. Energy, health care, and education meld into a consistent whole; product of our national character.

Energy becomes innovation, Health care becomes fiscal responsibility, and Education becomes the promise to our future; values that inhere in the nation’s fabric, each inviting individual promise and participation.

The speech was serious but not calamitous. There were no signs of gloomy foreboding, more a rendering of a nation we would hope to inhabit. The greater parts of the speech were moments of toughness and sobriety, yet there remained room for genuine humor. As in life, and not politics, the speech showed an amalgamation of strict and forgiving.

The address was demonstrative, never pleading. Obama did not so much ask Congress for their cooperation but issued a statement of how-it-is. Obama exhorted “this truth”--those called to serve, entrusted by the people—are responsible to history and “the spirit of the people who sent us here.”

He closed with stories of the Florida banker who gave his considerable bonus to his employees, his friends; how a devastated Kansas town rebuilt it hope in sustainable ways; of a South Carolina school child who embraced the possible and demanded the same of others. Congress was instructed to get on board, to channel the spirit of those who empower their Washington presence.

"[T]hese stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity."

Unlike speeches of the last few months, Obama’s rhetoric soared in the closing, inspiring, rarifying our better angels. It felt good.

". . . if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, 'something worthy to be remembered.' "

Obama’s hope of earlier primary speeches returned, and appropriately.

Grade: A


Anonymous said...

You're kidding with the A, right? A good speaker doesn't make a good president and/or decision-maker. I still heard nothing but fluff from him. And don't even get me started on the witch Pelosi who jumped up and down like an idiot every time he said something. I don't want a president who gives lip service, I want one who can clearly explain what his administration is doing specifically (meaning facts) to put out fires. He was a motivational speaker last night, and that's not good enough.

Anonymous said...

How about that gov from louisiana. He was terrible!!!!!! Grade F

Anonymous said...

I'll concur that he is a good speaker, but much of what he espouse is generalities, with stick it to the man, the rich man specifically. How many people will reap new jobs in road construction, really? Building solar panels is going to replace many lost manufacturing jobs? I hope "we" succeed, but this spend & spend and tax those that have worked to the top will ultimately fail. And by the way, Nancy Pelosi's goofy grins and constant standing was a distraction and a scripted farce.

Anonymous said...

Motivational Grade, I would agree on the "A", but we need more than that (or at least I do) and I am afraid that the policy that drives the motivation has nothing to due with "we the people" and more to due with "we the democratic politicians". The majority of the very people that the dems rely on for votes are some of the most hard hit by the economy, we'll see if things turn around (and I hope they do). But, if not, I expect past democratic voting to swing the other way the next time around.

Anonymous said...

Nothing of substance provided but strong hints of big govt presence and class warfare mentality...F

Anonymous said...

You are right on target with your assessment of this speech. If anyone can get us out of this mess President Obama can and the country should be behind him and hope he succeeds.

Anonymous said...

The best line was "I am proud that we passed stimulus package without any earmarks in it" LOL

Anonymous said...

BRAVO to president Obama!
Every word was brilliant and right on point.
The story of the little 8th grader from Dillon South Carolina was unforgettable, moving,and should be discussed at length.
Gov. mark Sanford of S.C. on cable news all week spouting his disdain for the stimulus money and how he won't use it, and Senator Lindsey Graham of S.C. wants a new federally funded convention center in Myrtle Beach S.C.!!!
Am I the only one that sees the shame of these 2 Republicans from South Carolina....

Anonymous said...

F- and F-. Obama and Jindel. Both sucked. Failures. Transfer troops to Afghan from Iraq playing musical chairs and throw more trillions of borrowed tax money at the problem. Yea thats the Washington game.
So what else is new?

chupacabra said...

It was nice to see Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden behind the President instead of Darth Vadar.

Ah breathe the free air.

The righteous indignation of the wide right would be less laughable without the fact that they started the war in Iraq and that whole K Street debacle.

davidt2974 said...

On some level, I'd say that one of the most important jobs of the president is to be a motivational speaker. He needed to set the tone of the National mood and did an excellant job of that.

Does that mean I think substance isn't important, no, I'm as impatient as anyone for real facts and answers..but that's more the job of his cabinet vs what last night's speech was intended to be.

Anonymous said...

Bobby Jindal was hilarious! Where does the GOP find these people? They just don't get it. No matter what picture they try to paint or who they choose to be their messenger, they will always be the party of old, rich white guys. They cannot do better than Obama and America did not vote for Obama because he is black, but because he was the best candidate and is capable of delivering us from this God Almighty mess.

Anonymous said...

The markets will grade the President - not ideological media writers or academia. Unfortunately every time O opens his mouth, the markets go down. The markets represent the confidence in the economy and are the start of a recovery. He has charisma but lacks true leadership. He needs to do the "hard right thing" (versus the easy wrong thing) and stay away from ideological plans/ideas. Otherwise the economy/people will suffer more. Jindal wasn't that great either.

Anonymous said...

I expected the negative rants from the hyperpartisan hacks who get their news from Limbaugh, and the posts so far haven't disappointed me!

The Republican three-pronged "road map to prosperity" is:

Tax cuts for the rich

We've had 15 years of the Republican plan, commencing with the 1994 Gingrich congress, and those three items have been the cornerstone of policy. The result has been the worst economic crisis in decades.

As a lifelong Republican, I'm now convinced that we were on the wrong track. The lie has been exposed.

As for the speech, I agree with Mr. Louden. I don't much care for political speeches in general, and usually avoid them, but President Obama's was far better than any of the halting, illiterate, whiny, petulant rants that we had to endure from Bush for eight years.

Ron said...

What a contrast I saw in president Obama compared to president Bush. It is great to see a smart gifted speaker running our country. It was a pleasure to listen to not only what he said but how he said it. I give him an A also.

Anonymous said...

It was a very motivational speech with passion. I hope that his policies work but his speech last night left me wondering whether or not this tsunami of money will leave us in even more dire of a situation years from now. This is an enormous gamble and I was not comforted by his impassioned rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Anony 8:34am:

'someone who can clearly explain' mean like W did oh so well?

Do you not understand this is a time when people need be lifted and motivated? The president can't fix this without the's like asking the queen bee to build her hive alone. Your ignorance is exactly what he's speaking to when he refers to the rhetoric of old. You can't go into battle without motivated troops who have a clear objective. Wake up.

Anonymous said...

I'm absolutely SHOCKED that the DNC Observer would rate an Obama speech an A. SHOCKED!! This rag is more left wing than Huffington Post.

Anonymous said...

chupacabra said...
The righteous indignation of the wide right would be less laughable without the fact that they started the war in Iraq and that whole K Street debacle.

Yeah, the K Street. Isn't that interesting that K Streeters called the recent spending bill "our Super Bowl" and had copies of final bill before the members of Congress? Must be right-wing conspiracy.

Anonymous said...

Good lord some of you people are stupid. No wonder American is going to cr@p...

Anyone who tries to say that things are great with Obama because of that speech are morons.

Republican = Politician = Democrat

B. Brown said...

President Obama gets an A. Bobby Jindal gets an F. The accusation of "lip service", "empty words", from critcs. We get it. What you don't get is that the 2008 Election is over and the majority of Americans have decided. If you somehow missed it. It's President Obama who has been chosen to direct this country out of the mess it's in. If the obstructionistic GOP don't delay their campaigning for the 2012 contest, the President won't have to worry about working across the aisle, because the seats on the GOP side of the aisle will shift dramatically to the Democratic side in 2010. So keep that burr under your saddle for now if it makes you feel good. But prepare to have it surgically removed.

Anonymous said...

The speech had no substance. I'll also agree that Jindel was not good. It's obvious that government spending is his solution to all of our problems. Am I the only one that recalls toilet seats bought in the 90's by the government cost $300 a piece? The government is not efficient. I am also annoyed that jobs in the private sector declined 3.2% last year. Jobs in the government sector increased .7%. There is something wrong with that picture. Why is everyone so hyped about taxing the rich? Does anyone even understand that the tax tables for the rich are technically already unfair? Under Obama's plan, the weathiest Americans will be taxed at a federal rate of 39%. 39%!!!!!! That doesn't include state taxes, etc. That is ridiculous. How would you like it if your tax rate was 39%?
And one more comment....Universal healthcare is a bad idea. It will ruin our country's superior healthcare system. It hasn't work in any country that has implemented it. Wake up America!

Anonymous said...

Was that Bush or Obama up there on his high horse soapbox with their smirking happy face talk? Hard to differentiate. Thowing more trillions at the problems in borrowed tax loot will solve the problems right? Its impossible to discern the difference between the DNC and GOP anymore but then again thats always been the case.

The GOP runs up a liberal doubled debt yet laughably switches to play fiscal conservative now? The DNC still loves its pork.

Both these parties are playing the people and take opposite sides only for show. Both in bed together. Both leave Washington mega millionaires without exception.

Just like heaven and hell you must have 2 opposite pretenders to play off each other to trick the masses when in fact they couldnt survive without each other like George Burns said in his Oh God movie playing God stated so wisely ...
Its all a con.

Grade is C for presentation D for content and F for future worth. Obama sould have been a B actor like Reagan.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else hear about the MSNBC person who said "Oh God" live on air when Jindal was walking to the podium to speak. MSNBC is out of control. I have never seen such an unprofessional network. I know all of you Fox News haters will say Fox is the same. Absolutely not true. There is a difference between leaning to the right or left and being downright disrespectful. They should take MSNBC off the air. No wonder they have the lowest ratings on cable tv.
Why isn't this a story? It should be.

Anonymous said...

The Governor of South Carolina doesn't want stimulus money while the State has a 9.5 unemployment rate and crumbling schools?????

Anonymous said...

Were we watching the same speech? Also with the two clowns behind him (Biden and Pelosi) who could take him seriously.

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable! Yes the speech was moving but Obama has always been moving when his remarks are carefully scripted. Again, and still, nothing of substance and nothing with any responsibility. Is the media and reps from acadamia so blind as not to see the empty actions of recent actions? Obama is pre-spending money he has no right to spend and relying on future generations to foot the bill. Unfortunately his promise of FOCA will murder many of those who might have paid for his malfeasance.

I don't know why I typed will be "moderated" and not printed as it does not match the silly agenda of the CO and its agents.

Anonymous said...

i would LOVE it if my tax rate was 39%, because I would then be making more than I could spend. Politcal rhetoric and philosophy aside, it was a great speech, very captivating. Whether the execution of his plans and vision succeed is an entirely different story. I hope he's right, (neither dem or rep, associating with either party makes me want to vomit) but I fear that his intentions might not be parallel to reality. Bobby Jindal has a bright political future, but he isn't the speaker that Obama is. The Republican party needs to be careful not to mirror the Democratic party of the last 8 years, where the public only heard negative comments on Republican ideas and very fresh ideas on how to do it better. So far they are failing miserably.

Anonymous said...

complete joke and telling you would rate this a "A"

Why not call him out on the multiple LIES he told in the speech, isn't that, You know THE MEDIA'S FREAKING JOB

Lets start with the Pork lie and go from there, you could spend a week blogging on them.

Then lets move on to the Logical Fallacy known as the "Broken Window" which his Entire Economic Package is based on.

Then the fact just a few months ago the Democrats were lambasting Bush's spending then they come in the first Month and out do that in one bill, the biggest spending/pork bill in History!

Anonymous said...

Jonah Goldberg had an excellent piece yesterday on how Obama is so far Bush II, espeically on the War on Terror, Iraq, Guantinmo, etc.

Just shows how gullible the Liberal Left and Media in this country were on that stuff

Anonymous said...

Yes, the People who empowered Fannie/Freddie to force banks to give Loans to people who can not pay them back are going to get us out of this mess!

also, the same people that Filibustered attempts to Reign in Fannie/Freddie among other things.

All they will do is nationalize the banks, kill charlotte's economy and the rest of the nations

Anonymous said...

and the Dow is down again today, Good Job Obama. The real "Stimulus" money continues to sit on the sidelines because it is scared to death of you.

Anonymous said...

Obama has been playing the Politics of Fear, and routinely lying about the Economic situation. Its not close to as bad as it was in the late 70's/early 80's yet, by far.

In recent speeches Obama has used the word Crisis over 25 times, nice to see he didn't do quite as much of that last night, though still dissapointing.

Reagan he is not, not by far

Anonymous said...

Both BO and BJ were bad last night. Too much ideology - all politicians are bad. The bad part BO constantly blaming GWB for all of the present problems. While I was not a GWB fan, I want someone leading the country that will take responsibility for our problems and get us out of them. Blaming does no good. In the real world, what BO is doing is called CYA. In the real world I wouldn't hire someone with that attitude - and I don't want one as the President. Congress was/is part of the problem and he was part of that. GWB doesn't write/pass bills - Congress does. They are all at fault.

Anonymous said...

Some of the posters on here are out of control. I can't believe the lack of respect and patience in our newly elected President. He has only been in office for a month people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It's going to take a while to undone the mess the Republicans made over the past 8 years. As far as speaking....I think he is a far cry from the moron you elected twice!!!

Anonymous said...

Jindal was much better on the Today show this morning, he's smarter and has a better background than Obama. He'll be smeared though if he's ever considered a contender, not being able to give great speeches may impede that from occurring.

ProudtobeAmerican said...

Jindal forgot to metion that those tax cuts he has given to Louisiana over the past two years since he has been in office have led to the 2 Billion Dollar deficit that his State Faces now. Hey, but tax cuts are the only solution!

Anonymous said...

Jindal whistles way to much while he talks for me ever to take him seriously.

Anonymous said...

B.Brown says: "What you don't get is that the 2008 Election is over and the majority of Americans have decided. If you somehow missed it. It's President Obama who has been chosen to direct this country out of the mess it's in. If the obstructionistic GOP don't delay their campaigning for the 2012 contest, the President won't have to worry about working across the aisle, because the seats on the GOP side of the aisle will shift dramatically to the Democratic side in 2010."

There's something YOU need to understand. An election win is not a rubber stamp from the people to get what Obama wants. They are voted in to represent the people in their district. If the people in their disctrict dont want what Obama wants, then its their perogative to do whatever is necessary to stop it. It isnt written ANYWHERE that members of congress are required to rubber stamp the federal agenda set by the President. Those who are being "obstructionist" also won their elections and they are doing as they are suppposed to: represent the people that elected them. There are many congressional districts in this country that is not happy with how Obama wants things done. 46 percent of the electorate voted AGAINST Obama. If you think they will be replaced with Democrats if they dont stop "campaigning for 2012", then youve got another think coming. The only way they could lose their seats is if they do as you suggest: stop opposing Obama.