Obama, Punditry, and the State of the Union Address That Ensured a Second Term

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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114 Responses

  1. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    No, I think you squared it pretty well, Tod.Report

  2. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I think this has about it nailed.

    Now in the Convention speech he’ll probably do a “rally around the party” speech.Report

  3. Avatar Stillwater says:

    In fact, I’m pretty sure that against the current field of dream GOP candidates this locks up the second term – and for all the right reasons.

    I thought the same thing. He’s not only a pretty good liberal (on most things), he’s a better conservative than the GOP has put forward.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      True.  He’s like the perfect High/Low hand.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Tod, have your views of politics, especially partisan politics, changed a bit in recent months? Is my belief that they have based on noise rather than signal?Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          I’m not sure that I understand what your second question is asking, Still.  But my answer to your first is no.  Of course I’m the least biased person in the room on the subject of me, but I still think no.

          Why do you ask?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            It just seems like you’re using much harsher language when talking about the GOP than you used to. Or harsher than I remember. But I haven’t really paid attention too closely, which is why I asked.

            I didn’t mean to put you on the spot! 🙂

             Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              No, you’re not putting me on the spot.

              To answer a bit more clearly though, my position as a “principled pragmatist” (other than I really need to think of a better name for what I am than “principled pragmatist”) is that you need to be able to accept the truths that both conservatism and liberalism bring to the table – and in fact to recognize that they each do have inherent truths.  In a best case scenario, we would have two national parties that work with this good faith assumption.

              So my beef these day’s isn’t with conservatism.  It’s with the GOP.  I think that they have gotten to a point where it is far more important for most of them to be on FOXNEWS or their local FOX affiliate radio show than to govern.  I think that the entire reason that the two candidates that everyone was so sure were going to be the nominee at the outset – Palin and Perry – were such disasters was that each had just assumed that in order to run to be the most powerful person on the planet all you needed to do was just show up and smile.  Even as each kept getting reminded that in fact it’s really, really hard work, neither seemed at all interested in putting in that work.  And this, to me, is a distillation of what the party has become.  I think that the debt ceiling fiasco was the political embodiment of this mistaken assumption that all good governance ever really was was simply showing up, looking well coiffed and saying an approved catchy soundbite because your cable TV news network would always have your back.

              If I am being sharper now than I was 6 months ago when I started, I think it has everything to do with the fact that the party – to my surprise – has gotten worse.  I was sure that Romney was going to be the nominee, and that his example of being a grown up that prided himself on knowing how to govern and effectively manage people would force the other candidates to follow suit.  Instead I have been really surprised to see that in order to stay afloat, he has been forced to become more like Bachmann, Gingrich and Santorum.  That’s the wrong direction.

              So if you see me as growing less and less patient with the GOP, that’s pretty much why.  It’s not because my political leanings are changing.

              Does that make sense?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Yes. Perfect sense! And thanks for answering.

                Your answer also clears up the confusing way I asked my initial question: I wasn’t asking if your political views had changed, but whether your views of politics had changed. And it seems they have!

                 Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Of the three candidates you claim Romney is “forced to be like”, one of them is already out of the election, one of them will likely be out after the next round of primaries, and Romney has no apparent interest in being like the third.  So…Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                so… he’s being rewarded for it.Report

              • Avatar Scott Fields says:

                …I really need to think of a better name for what I am than “principled pragmatist”

                When you come up with this name, could you let me know? That’s pretty much my affiliation, too.Report

              • Avatar Bobby Lee says:

                yeah, if you come up with a better name write an article, start a party, and run for president…please.

                 Report

  4. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    I think Obama’s rhetoric was less indicative of his own feelings and just the result of a country that is already oozing those narratives.

    A SOTU should be just that, the state of the union.  What it has become, or perhaps it always was, is a giant pep rally with partisan undercurrents.

    We’re number one!!  Our union is strong and always will be!!  Together there’s nothing we can’t do!!  Our workers are the best in the world!!  Our Army is the best in the world!!  The United States is exceptional and central to the rest of the world!!

    The sun is not setting on this great nation, the sun never has set on this great nation, and the sun never will set on this nation!!

    Should we expect anything more from our politicians, or the people they pander to?  Perhaps not.  But let’s not forget how preposterous this whole thing is, and how the President is at the center of that circus, encouraging it and playing his part as best he can.

    There were plenty of valid policy proposals that invite valid counter-arguments, and those debates will certainly play out in the coming weeks and months.  But the President, Congress, the Supreme Court and the American people are stunningly unanimous in one thing, and that’s that our military should never be questioned, its policies and procedures should always be admired, and the nation is at its best when embracing those imperialist tendencies in as many other lands and areas as possible.

     Report

    • Avatar Just John says:

      I think I share your feeling of exasperation, at least some of the time to some extent.  I’m not sure what other narratives are possible though.  Where is that line between giving us what we need and giving us what we want?  In the specifics we don’t agree about what we need, and what we want shifts with a heavy breakfast. The specifics in your last sentence are too extreme, too sweeping.  We have room for this kind of politics because we have elections instead of revolutions and tax code changes instead of riots and rapine.

       Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      When did the State of the Union change? My immediate response is to say January 2002 but that could easily be projecting because that was the first SotU that I sat down to watch rather than merely have on in the background while I did other things.

      Were Clinton’s speeches substantially different? Herbert Walker’s? I shudder to ask: Were Reagan’s?Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        You can check.

        I think the decisive difference was once FDR came on the picture, the audience became broader and more toward the general public than the joint houses of Congress.

        Grover Cleveland’s second annual address for example, gets into the weeds a bit in terms of policy. But by the time you get to LBJ, you get a lot of “rah rah pass my agenda” stuff.

        Link available below!
        http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/sou.php#axzz1kV0i9kE2Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I figured that I’d read one from one of the last decent presidents and clicked on Coolidge’s from 1927.

          Golly, the past is another country.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            Coolidge was hardly a decent president…but maybe you’d find something from TR more interesting.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I also like Ford. I read 1975’s speech and the part that I found most interesting was that it was given at 1PM in the afternoon.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I suspect a “just the facts” speech at 1:00 in the afternoon had everything to do with what had just happened in the past year, and why it was Ford giving the SOTU.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                One of the things I wanted to check was whether there was a pattern or tradition when these things were given and there are a *LOT* of “as delivered in person before a joint session” notes in the modern era but the earliest time mention that I saw was LBJ in 1965 where he gave the speech at 9PM (in front of a joint session). (Scratch that, Harry Truman gave one at 1PM in 1947…)

                Nixon 1970 was given around noon, 1971 was given at night…

                There doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason.

                A big insight is given in Gerry Ford’s 1975 speech where he says:

                Now, I want to speak very bluntly. I’ve got bad news, and I don’t expect much, if any, applause.

                That tells me that applause was a big part of the immediate feedback for the speech by that point (but, of course, it doesn’t give any hint as to when that may have started).

                It does look like that was the last one given in the middle of the day (though Carter’s 1981 speech does not mention a time).

                So, if I had to guess, it changed in the 70’s. That’s when it stopped being a speech for Congress and started being a speech in front of Congress.
                Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                That just means it took a little while for politicians to clue in to the fact that TV was watching.Report

  5. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Verdict:  as good as any of the commentary I’ve read online this morning.   In fact, substantially better.   Go Tod.Report

  6. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    I take your point, Tod.  However, while I don’t think that the country is in present danger of sliding into a militaristic mode of operation or that Obama was speaking code to this effect, I nonetheless found the President’s language here kinda creepy.  I suppose my habit of thinking explicitly (and maybe too much) about narratives and their affects on thought and discourse has rendered me overly sensitive to seemingly minor myths and metaphors, and yet there’s a reason for my sensitivity: sometimes these narratives matter.  When repeated over time, especially without reflection or understanding, they shape the way we think, and they can build to some pretty dangerous ideas about the world.  Given that the president was implicitly talking about power, I don’t fault Jason or Andrew for raising a red flag.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      Oh, me either, to be clear.

      But we’re a different context than the people Tod’s talking about and what they hear.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Agreed, Pat.  Plus I can’t help but notice that unlike Bush, who talked about freeing nations (as the wars raged on), Obama chose a very different tact.  He did not, strikingly, use the SOTU as a way to focus on his role in the Arab Spring the way a neocon might have.  Instead he chose to focus on a single, finite operation that was successful, had a quick resolution, and in which only criminal terrorists were involved.  I do not believe this was an accident; I think it was drawn this way entirely to juxtapose himself to the foreign policy rhetoric in the GOP right now.Report

        • Avatar BradP says:

          That’s not entirely true.  The part that you didn’t quote, the part where he lists the acheivements made because people put aside their personal ambitions and did what they were told, was this bundle of claims:

          “We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.  (Applause.)  For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.  (Applause.)  For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.  (Applause.)  Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated.  The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.”Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            This is both true and a good point.  I will still say in defense of mine, though, that one was a in a bundle and the other a centerpiece was not accidental.

            (And since you said “not entirely” I assume you were already giving me that benefit, Brad.)Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

        90% apparently loved the speech, which shows that the President is only giving the people what they want.  We are all enablers now.Report

  7. Avatar North says:

    Yes it reads as the opening movement of a rally the base symphony. Frankly that makes me nervous because I’ve always been skeptical that the Dem base can pull off the whole election even if riled up. We’ll have to wait and see.Report

  8. Avatar Michelle says:

    Thoughtful piece Tod–as usual. I agree with your basic premise; that is, that people who watched the speech without then feeding it through the pundit filter were likely to walk away with a much different perspective on it than those who are paid to analyze politics for a living (and those who put too much credence in what they say). I don’t know that it’s the speech itself that likely guarantees his re-election as much as it is getting a good dose of Obama’s actual talents and personality after an overdose of Republican primary Obama-bashing. He comes off so much better than his potential opponents.

    I don’t see how anybody who hasn’t been trapped inside the Fox News propaganda box for the past few years wouldn’t find Obama about ten times more likeable than the two Republican front runners. Take away the hate and resentment from Newt Gingrich and what do you have left? A lobbyist for Fannie and Freddie who got ran out of Congress by his own party because of his failed leadership and because most of them couldn’t stand the guy. Add in a personal life which has all the makings of a reality show hit and it’s not going to take you very far. As for Romney, he’s got a better resume but his signature reform as governor of Massachusetts is pretty much Obamacare writ small, while his business record can and will be characterized as making millions by stripping solvent companies of their capital, laying off their workers, and ensuring his fat cat investors got theirs.  Add in the perception that the guy has zero empathy and zero ability to connect to a crowd of people who, unlike him, don’t make a few million a year in interest off their investments and you have another losing combination.

    Last night’s speech (and I’ve only seen bits and pieces) probably did remind a lot of people of what they like about the guy, and he hasn’t really warmed up yet. While it’s unlikely he can repeat his 2008 performance, on the level of personal appeal, he’s got his Republican rivals beat.Report

  9. Avatar James Hanley says:

    As far as this SOTU guaranteeing a second term, that’s a classic example of a pundit trying to be clever.  Sorry, but it had to be said.  Yes, this was a preview of Obama’s campaign, but we’re still 8+ months away from election day, and if you think this speech can guarantee the public’s perception more than half a year from now, I want some of what they’re smoking in your particular smoke-filled room.

    As to the militarism bit, I’ll try to be polite, but you really hit one of my nerves here.  “Oh, sure, he’s making a military reference, but that doesn’t mean people will take it as having any military meaning.”  Nonsense.  The analogy works precisely because the American public is a bunch of militaristic jingoists, and Obama’s speechwriting team was intentionally tapping into that.  It works perfectly for every American who ever said, “my country right or wrong,” and didn’t realize there was a second half to that quote; every one who ever said “I trust the president,” or “politics stops at the water’s edge.  Our government is increasingly shifting authority to the military (see the NDAA) and your response to military references is complacency that no real Americans will get the jingoism?

    On another level it was a tortured…no, patently stupid analogy.  The Seal team were not policymakers–they were street-level bureaucrats assigned a task by policymakers.  When Obama was talking about all of us pulling together he was talking about pulling together on the policy level, not the level of executing the policy.  It’s a fantasy, it’s an anti-democratic fantasy, and it badly confuses two fundamentally different activities. But conflating dissent with infidelity is not shocking coming from someone who’s standard tone is moralistic hectoring.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      The point about the headline is a fair one, but I disagree with you about the rest.  As I said to Kyle above, “I can’t help but notice that unlike Bush, who talked about freeing nations (as the wars raged on), Obama chose a very different tact.  He did not, strikingly, use the SOTU as a way to focus on his role in the Arab Spring the way a neocon might have.  Instead he chose to focus on a single, finite operation that was successful, had a quick resolution, and in which only criminal terrorists were involved.  I do not believe this was an accident; I think it was drawn this way entirely to juxtapose himself to the foreign policy rhetoric in the GOP right now.”

      Also, if I came across as saying that the story had nothing to do with military operations then I was less then clear.  That it did so was definitional.  What I did not hear were the additional messages that he was planning on turning our domestic world into a militaristic police state the way others heard it.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

        “was planning on turning our domestic world into a militaristic police state the way others heard it.”

        I think it’s less about doing that, or older, more traditional understandings of “the police state,” then the more subversive way in which greater centralization in policy making, specifically in the executive, as well as the proliferation of “top-down” approaches, is leading to more Caeser and less Republic.

        Obama’s speech further de-legitimized Congress rather than seeking to re-substantiate and re-invigorate our troubled but democratic institutions.

        This is a trend that is slow moving and nearly invisible on a day to day basis, but one which is best captured by moderators asking Republicans in debates “what would you do about X,” rather than more basic questions about governance, justice, and their views on national foreign policy.

        Obama’s speech embodied that form of cynical triangulation that Clinton was notorious for in which both parties, and the Congress, are subverted while the Presidency, and its office holder rise to ever greater reverence.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

          I don’t think Obama’s speech delegitimized Congress anymore than its own actions have over the last year. 13% approval ratings don’t build themselves.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          I see why you see it this way, and policy-wise I certainly agree with you.  However, I don’t believe that this is either the way this story is meant to be perceived, nor the way it will be received my almost everyone that hears it.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

            It certainly won’t be ” the way it will be received my almost everyone that hears it,” which is part of the problem.

            I enjoyed the post, but perhaps you can clarify something for me.  Are you simply arguing that on process, Obama knew his audience and delivered his speech accordingly?  Because i certainly agree, and what should follow a speech like this is an analysis of the people who heard it (and agreed/disagreed) rather than the man who only gave them what they wanted.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              I would argue that, whether or not you agree with either the operation to terminate OBL or liked this story’s use in the SOTU, it was not intended to be heard as either a call to arms militarily, nor that he was “signaling” a move toward fascism, nor that he wants you to think of him as the war president.

              The intended message was the message I outlined above.  He highlighted it rather specifically to show that a). he has not been rolling over to foreign enemies, as those running against him are claiming, and b). he wants you to draw a comparison between a bipartisan, well constructed, deliberate and finite military action (that he believes you will think of as necessary) and those that are saying we should send more troops into Afghanistan, send forces back into Iraqdeclare war on Iran and begin military action against Cuba – Holy S**t!!! Cuba!!! -a year from now.

              I also argue that this is what Americans are going to hear him saying.  And that it’s going to be very, very well received.  In other words it is not, as I keep hearing on the intertubes, intended to be a “jingoism” message – it’s intended to be a “hey, who’s the grown up in the room?” message.

              Again, I see why you see it differently, and I agree with you and Jason about all the bigger picture policy stuff – but that’s not what people are going to hear.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Tod, just so you don’t feel like your single-handedly fighting a rearguard action, I completely agree with you about this.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                I also agree with everything said in that comment.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                “he wants you to draw a comparison between a bipartisan, well constructed, deliberate and finite military action (that he believes you will think of as necessary) and those that are saying we should send more troops into Afghanistan, send forces back into Iraqdeclare war on Iran and begin military action against Cuba – Holy S**t!!! Cuba!!! -a year from now.”

                And that’s where my problem is.  He is contrasting the Republican’s quite insane brand of conservative realism with his own brand of *sane* conservative realism.  And he’s doing that because he knows, as you state, that the country itself is of a conservative mind on international politics.

                I’m looking for some Jimmy Carter Malaise, he gave us Reagan Triumphalism with some populist tinges.

                “it was not intended to be heard as either a call to arms militarily, nor that he was “signaling” a move toward fascism, nor that he wants you to think of him as the war president.”

                Even if one doesn’t see it as a call to arms, to fascism, or to continued war, the fact of the matter is that he is a conservative realist on foreign policy, a wartime president, and has no problem stoking the imperialist sentiments that reside in people’s hearts out in the rest of the country.  Come this fall he has offered the country a conservative alternative to crazy conservatism.  A winning strategy, but a sad development.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I agree, strongly, on both points.

                In my post I talked about pundits hearing what they wanted to hear with Obama.  I’ll count myself amongst them on this: I was pretty sure I was reading between the lines on the campaign that Obama would pull us out of the Middle East post haste, but was signaling it because it would be political suicide to come out and say it out loud.vvTurns out he was pretty much who he said he was, and I heard what I wanted to.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                In my own perverse and obtuse way, I’d like to make the Liberal case against Obama’s pandering and Jingoism Lite.

                I never met Osama bin Ladin during my time in the Jalozai camps in Pakistan but I heard his name.   I met a few Arabs who were doing logistics for the mujahidin, running little supply depots inside Afghanistan.   I can’t say for sure if these were Al Qaeda operators or not:  OBL was then just one of a fairly large contingent of Arabs then hanging around Jalozai.   But they were brave guys, low-key, intent on laying the groundwork for expelling the kuffar Soviet troops.

                There were other Arabs who tried to lord it over the Pashtun mujahidin, Saudis, Yemenis, Kuwaitis driving around in big Land Cruisers, all billy bad ass, tossing money around.   But OBL already had a reputation for austerity and humility and the refugees admired him greatly.   The silly rich boys didn’t go up through those mountain passes in their Land Cruisers.   The nightmarish HIND helos, airborne tanks, just waited for any kind of vehicle to come through the mountains.   Everyone who went into Afghanistan went in at night, quietly, scared to death, man-packing everything they’d need through the rocks and snow.

                These were brave men, waging a quixotic war against an implacable and murderous enemy who would destroy a village on a whim.

                Tell you this right now, I wouldn’t do it and I wouldn’t lead men into that kind of fight.

                What might have happened if the USA had established a relationship with OBL?   Of all the two-bit Pashtun warlords and assorted Islamic idiots around during those terrible days, OBL was one of the few guys anyone admired.   Why did we go for the Devil We Knew in the Pakistanis, allowing them to back the very worst of all the warlords?   OBL was then a very minor player, known only by his excellent reputation.   We might have made a friend in him, sent him an envoy, entered into some rapprochement with him?

                It’s all so much woulda-coulda-shoulda.   I’ll probably attract more flames for writing this than a dog turd attracts flies.   I don’t care.   This is no defense of Al Qaeda or OBL or even anything but a personal feeling of missed opportunity,  the musings of an old man who loved and admired the noble Pashtun people with all his heart and who has watched Afghanistan with a broken heart for far longer than the interval between 9/11 and today.   OBL didn’t have to be our enemy.  He volunteered to fight Saddam Hussein.

                OBL might have been our friend.   Other, less-savory and far less admirable characters are supposedly our friends but they’re not.   OBL is dead and I’m glad he’s dead.   But when OBL was running his little way stations in Afghanistan, he wasn’t our enemy.

                So let Barack Obama treasure his flag, signed by the operators who killed OBL.   God knows OBL needed killing but we’ve only made a martyr of him, which was all OBL ever wanted from life.   God answers the prayers of the stupid, literally and immediately.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I don’t know if you’re right, because as you say it’s “woulda coulda shoulda,” but it’s an argument that’s worth pondering for lessons that might be applied in other circumstances.  I had the opportunity to participate in a meeting at the State Department in, iirc, ’08, on the subject of how the U.S. should try to communicate with Muslims, and for certain political appointees in the room it all came down to, as one explicitly said, “tell us whether we should back the Sunnies or the Shiites in Iraq.”  Those numbskulls could have benefited from some time pondering what you wrote, if they were capable of thinking that deeply.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                We could have simply asked them what they wanted.  The Wahhabi/Salafi are probably the only people we could have asked, since the Sunni and Shiites both hate them.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho says:

                Whether OBL or the corrupt Pakistani government, that such nuts are ever on “our” side (I don’t recall seeing that agreement…) serves as yet another addition to the pile representing the absurdity and utter moral bankruptcy of U.S. foreign policy.

                 Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                How very true.   Perhaps we ought to think through the problem of American Foreign Policy as a process of learning what other people might want, affording them just a little respect as we learn from their responses.   Two ears and one mouth and that’s about the proportion in which they ought to be used.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Obama’s speech further de-legitimized Congress rather than seeking to re-substantiate and re-invigorate our troubled but democratic institutions.

          Agreed. I was struck by the number of time he said, “I will sign an executive order…”  All perfectly within his authority, but still sending a message of administrative governance of the type Nixon longed for, but came too soon in the history of the presidency to achieve.  But any president in Obama’s place–at this time in history, facing a heels-dug-in opposition–would do the same, so this isn’t an anti-Obama complaint; it’s an anti-presidency complaint.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

            Very much so.  I only somewhat single Obama out because of the narrative in some quarters that he is different, or above the game.  He will run a billion dollar campaign, continue his reign of executive secrecy, and never fail to deliver his speeches with an uplifting smile and positive inflection.  He is only as bad, or as good, as those who came before.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            I think the real criticism should really go to Congress for being so dysfunctional (particularly the senate) rather than the presidency.

            Dysfunction creates a power vacuum that allows the presidency to fill and congress is often only too happy to unload some of its responsibilities.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Yes, this is the other side of the coin.  Presidents will take what power they can commander, so Congress really shouldn’t be opening the door and waving them on through.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

              And finally we get to the end of the rope: I (we) should really blame the voting public (ourselves) for holding the President responsible for laws he can not pass, and thus encouraging him/her to triangulate against Congress and blame it even further.

              Congress is a deadlock because Republicans don’t want to give the President a victory, because they know doing so will help dupe the American people into voting for him come election time.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                I do wonder how abusive a president would have to be until Congress decided enough was enough and tried to take back their prerogatives.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Well, Nixon.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                That was then.  Since then we’ve had Iran-Contra and “clear proof of WMD.”  I hope I’m just cynical, but I wonder if a Nixon wouldn’t cause as much reaction now.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Well, yes, but…

                Referring back to Hamilton’s argument for a singular rather than plural executive in the Federalist Papers, it’s easy to determine responsibility when a single person holds office, but hard to do so when multiple people hold an office because responsibility gets diffused and hidden.  So we the people can blame Congress, but that’s an abstraction–it’s individuals in Congress who are responsible, but which ones?  And even they are only tenuously responsible because it is the structure of the institution that weakens it vis a vis the president, rather than just the actions of individually identifiable congressmembers.

                Hell, those who are the “obstructionists” that push Obama to resort to executive orders are also the ones who are defending Congress’s legislative prerogatives against the demands of the executive branch.  Paradoxes ‘r us.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Ethan, I would frame it slightly differently.  I would say that we focus our democratic authority on electing an Executive to check Executive power.  But that’s not the Executive’s job – it’s Congress’s.

                I believe if we keep looking to one brach to limit themselves to the trough and let another off the hook for shirking their oversight duties, it will just get worse over time.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                 I would say that we focus our democratic authority on electing an Executive to check Executive power.

                Oh, well put.  I’m so totally stealing that phrasing.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Every now and then…    🙂Report

          • Avatar Jeff says:

            How many times did he say “send me a bill and I will sign it”?Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Lots of times, but that was rhetoric.  It’s an election year and he knows the GOP isn’t going to give him anything he can take credit for.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            I was struck by the number of time he said, “I will sign an executive order…”

            And I was struck by how few times he mentioned corpsman.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      The American public is a bunch of militaristic jingoists the same way that black people like watermelon.Report

  10. Avatar BradP says:

    I guess you can look at this one of two ways, depending on where you are on the “moderate/radical” spectrum:

    1.  Obama is imploring the American people to meet in the middle and come to a consensus on moving forward.

    2.  Obama is calling out obstruction and obliging people to let go of their own preferences and get behind the elite center (which he just happens to represent).Report

  11. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    The appeal here was, “Hey look, there’s Republicans in the SEALs and Democrats too, and they put aside their political differences and got the job done.” Which is nonsense because to join the military is to commit to serve, and one’s personal political preferences are irrelevant to the job.

    To not consider personal political preference is the essence of military service. To consider personal political preference is the essence of holding political office.

    Now, on the one hand, the emotional appeal of wrapping oneself in the flag, calling for bipartisanship, effective action, not caring overmuch about the differences between people, let’s git ‘er done — that’s good politics on an emotional level, and that’s the sort of political pitch Obama makes exceedingly well. He makes us believe that such things are possible, he makes us want to do such things.

    Then reality hits. Congress is not, and was never supposed to be, a squad of Navy SEALs. It is, and was always supposed to be, a deliberative, slow-acting body where political differences get hashed out slowly, roasted in analysis, alloyed in compromise, and ultimately used for the political footballs that they are, all in the hopes that such a process will produce policy that is roughly congruent with the consensus will of the electorate.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      It is, and was always supposed to be, a deliberative, slow-acting body where political differences get hashed out slowly, roasted in analysis, alloyed in compromise, and ultimately used for the political footballs that they are, all in the hopes that such a process will produce policy that is roughly congruent with the consensus will of the electorate

      So, either they have not achieved what they were desined to do, there really isnt any such thing as the consensus will of the electorate or the consensus will of the electorate is dysfunctionally insane.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I’m picking option C. I’ve always thought the problem is not democracy, it’s the electorate. If only people were smarter and if only more of them thought more like I do about the important things.Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 says:

      But isn’t there a clear difference between “slow roasted analysis” and outright obstruction?

      Its one thing to analyze and debate Presidential appointments, but filibustering each and every one is nothing at all like analysis, slow roasted or cold fermented.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

       Congress is not, and was never supposed to be, a squad of Navy SEALs. It is, and was always supposed to be, a deliberative, slow-acting body where political differences get hashed out slowly, roasted in analysis, alloyed in compromise, and ultimately used for the political footballs that they are, all in the hopes that such a process will produce policy that is roughly congruent with the consensus will of the electorate.

      You are of course absolutely right about what Congress is and was always supposed to be.

      But at the same time, what the presidency has been since it began was an office whose holder hectored and cajoled Congress to overcome its divisions and inertia and act as he calls on them to act.  At which point Congress either does or doesn’t. That’s what presidents do; the Congress does what it does; and that’s what our system is.  The cajoling is part of it.

      Whether this example of cajoling crosses some other line we want to keep is a separate question – it very well might.  But in general cajoling Congress out of inaction is just a bog-standard presidential function.Report

  12. Avatar Scott Fields says:

    Tod –

    I agree with the others here who have applauded this commentary. I think you are right on the mark. Early polling I’ve seen would seem to bear your premise out.

    In the OBL section of the speech, I thought his reference to the Situation Room (where he, Gates and Clinton were working together) carried as much weight as his reference to SEAL Team 6. It was the whole “Team of Rivals” thing that was discussed a lot around Obama’s election.  In that concept, both “team” and “rivals” are essential to the meaning. It’s not that the people involved are no longer rivals, but that in order to accomplish the work at hand, the rivalry becomes secondary.

    Burt notes about Congress:

    It is, and was always supposed to be, a deliberative, slow-acting body where political differences get hashed out slowly, roasted in analysis, alloyed in compromise, and ultimately used for the political footballs that they are, all in the hopes that such a process will produce policy that is roughly congruent with the consensus will of the electorate.

    I agree this is how Congress is supposed to be, but I’d stress that the adjectives don’t serve to cancel the verbs. Yes, Congress should be deliberative and slow, but it still has to act. Yes, there will be differences, but they need to get hashed out.  Yes, the process will be rife with politics by design, but Congress is still required to produce policy.

    The disdain with which the public now holds Congress is not because it is deliberative, slow, factional or political. The disdain comes from Congress not being able to be all those things and still get sh*t done.

    Obama’s SOTU is pointing that out. Bully for him.Report

  13. Avatar sidereal says:

    Jay Rosen lucidly refers to political journalists’ prioritization of being clever and connected over being correct and useful as ‘the cult of savviness’. Good summary of his thoughts here.

    Most of it comes from identifying more with the people they eat lunch with than their audience.Report

  14. Avatar J.L. Wall says:

    Of course, what was most stunning about that moment — and why I think it might signal powers henceforth unknown to mankind — is that it led to Andrew, Jason, and Max Boot taking the same position on the same issue for much the same reasons.  My head, quite frankly, nearly exploded.Report

  15. Avatar The Reason says:

    Mr. Kelly,

    Your thoughts are always thought provoking and I enjoy them. Your always have a few salient points with which I agree and yet I find that your underlying meanings are typically off-subject for me.

    For me, the State of Union Address has evolved into a campaign stump speech for the sitting President. This year was no different. I believe that you give too much credit to the pundits as though anyone is listening to them that can swing an election anyway. If anyone is listening to Fox News or CNN or Air America for that matter, it’s only political wonks who believe they are smarter than the room anyway.

    My point is that your focus is on an election, as seems to be the rest of blogdom and prime time news media. Everything that I have heard centers around eletions and debate and speech fodder and rhetoric. I can’t seem to get the word “rhetoric” out of my head. If there is one thing that Obama is GREAT at…and I truly mean “great” as in legendary…it’s campaigning. He is perhaps the greatest campaigner in history. You describe his meteoric rise to the Presidency as built on the Hope of previously apathetic voters who are now willing to stand behind the man who has fulfilled his word. I would argue that this surge was fueled by an 8 year hate-affair of the Bush-headed Republicans.

    Now that we have this man in office you claim that he is who he said he was. He has never said who he is. He was once a 20 year member of a church that was led by a man who hated America. He has divorced that church because it was detrimental to his ambitions. What have seen him do to fulfill his promise is focus the full force of his time and energy into the health care legislation that ended up in a muddled mess that won’t smack us in the face for 2 more year…after his reelection.

    When he was focusing on this legislation he was neglecting jobs. My assumption is that he figured he could focus on jobs just late enough to become our savior right before the election, essentially leveraging our hurt for a while so that he could cash in on the pain later.

    What pains me is that this amazing campaigner and wonderful candidate is not a good President. I have not read all your writing, Mr. Kelly, but tell me what makes Obama a good President. Tell me how he has made my life and that of my family better. Tell me how his 800 billion dollar band aids have helped me in the long term. I’m hungry for this.

    I agree that the Republican field for this election is woeful, but I don’t see how that is a victory for anyone other than candidate Obama. How does this make America stronger, better, more stable? Help me understand this.

    The ReasonReport

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Reason, sorry if this is late in coming, but I was traveling all day yesterday.

      My short answer to your query is that I think you might be reading too much into this post that was intended.  THis post was not meant to be a pro Obama speech, so much as a commentary about his speech’s rhetoric.  I actually agree with most of what you say above, both in the meta- and about Obama specifically.

      As to how he has made you life better through $800 billion, I cannot.  I can tell you that X number of economists say it was needed to curb a recession, and that you would be so much worse to day if he hadn’t done it – but I don’t know if that’s true.  To be honest, I think none of us do – and we take is as an article of faith that that helped or hurt, largely based on our party affiliations.  Because at the end of the day these conversations fall into the same campaign rhetoric that you correctly note seem to be driving the governing of our country.

      My own sense is that Obama is an OK president, neither great nor terrible – and that the current strategy of the GOP to let let him get anything done has made him thus.  I think that come Fall I will be like a lot of other Americans – someone that would have been happy to vote someone else in as President, but will instead give Obama his second term because the opposition party has chosen the wrong moment in history to become a bit of a train wreck.Report