So did President Barack Obama in his 2015 State of the Union address reveal that he’s really a lame duck who can make phrases ring and grandiose promises but do little — or did he give signs that he’s more of a political pit bull who far from planning on yielding to the new Congressional Republican majority intends to challenge it and battle it? Here’s a cross section of new and old media reaction to an address that’s increasingly viewed more by political junkies and partisans of the party that holds the White House than the American public at large.
Andrew Sullivan did live blogging. Here’s his final entry:
10.11 pm. This is a speech that revealed to us the president we might have had without the extraordinary crises – foreign and domestic – he inherited. I’ve always believed in his long game and in his bent toward pragmatism over ideology. Events can still upend things, but this is a president very much shaping the agenda past his own legacy. He’s showing Hillary Clinton the way, and has the midterms to point to as the result of the defensive crouch. If his standing improves still further, he will box her in, and she’ll have to decide if she’s going to be a Wall Street tool and proto-neocon or a more populist and confident middle class agenda-setter.
One of his best. And for the first time in his six years, he has the economic winds behind him…
National Review thinks Obama could teach the GOP some lessons, such as…:
He did show more political sense than Republicans sometimes have. His main theme of the night was a need for an economy that serves the middle class, always a winning one in a country where the vast majority of people consider themselves part of that category. Based on his new tax plan and, indeed, his whole career, he believes that an increase in the middle-class standard of living requires redistribution from the rich to them and from everyone to favored industries. Republicans ought to be able to make the case for a better way. That would not quite be beating Obama at his own game; it would be changing the rules of the game, by insisting that providing government benefits for the middle class is not the only way to help most people.
And he also set an example for Republicans in another respect. His agenda has no chance of being enacted by a Republican Congress, and everyone knows it. That has not stopped him from making his proposals, nor should it have. He is trying to influence the future of politics, including the 2016 elections, in order to advance these ideas over a time frame that goes beyond the 114th Congress.
Republicans should do the same thing with a conservative agenda to improve American life in tangible ways. They should do it even though making much of that agenda into law will require waiting for, and working to get, a better president.
After six years at the helm of a government mired in a deep recession and then a painfully slow recovery, President Obama finally got to deliver Tuesday the State of the Union address he’s always wanted to give. Touting the rebounding economy, he laid out an ambitious and unapologetically progressive agenda for generating “rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort.”
Unfortunately for Obama, Republicans now control both chambers of Congress, leaving him with even less influence over the legislative agenda than he had before. That means even fewer of his proposals are likely to advance than they have in the last two years; by one count lawmakers approved only seven of the 70 bills outlined in his State of the Union speeches. Yet by arguing that the improving economy should benefit everyone, not just a few, Obama set a goal that the parties claim to share. The unanswered question is whether the president and the GOP are eager enough to attain it that they’ll compromise on how to get there.
….Republicans talk about middle-class struggles too; where they differ with the president, sharply, is on how to solve them. Aside from his call for better infrastructure and more trade deals, few of the ideas Obama laid out Tuesday had anything in common with the GOP’s. Of course, it takes two to compromise, and the bills House Republicans have advanced so far have been nothing but confrontational.
Obama noted the party’s shared interests in many of his priorities, and he closed with a lengthy paean to more thoughtful politics. He’s been talking about that for some time, to little avail. He has two years left to see if he can bring about that change.
The Brooking Institution’s William Galston, writing in The Huffington Post:
As President Obama strode to the podium to deliver his 2015 State of the Union address, he had good reason to feel confident. Helped by a surge of job creation, and probably by lower gas prices as well, public satisfaction with the state of the economy and confidence in its future course had risen substantially during the past three months. Not coincidentally, so had the president’s job approval. Seemingly unfazed by his party’s rout in the 2014 midterm elections, he responded by going on the offensive with a series of bold executive orders and actions. And the White House’s innovative decision to release major policy proposals in advance of the speech garnered public attention, much of it favorable.
Still, as Mr. Obama began speaking, a key uncertainty remained: What balance would he strike between the desire to shape the political terrain for 2016 and the imperatives of governing in 2015? The former required bold initiatives, of a kind likely to evoke sharply negative reactions from Republicans who command majorities in both the House and the Senate. But successful legislating this year will require compromise with those very majorities. Could he thread the needle, making the Democratic political case for next year without undermining the possibility of legislative progress this year?
Mr. Obama delivered a clear, forceful, partisan speech whose substance stood in tension with his closing invocation of One America. In working to shape the political terrain for 2016, he may have weakened whatever prospects there were for meaningful cooperation with the opposition this year on issues other than trade.
The White House apparently believes that Republicans will be able to distinguish between agenda-setting rhetoric and the quieter process of legislation. Republican leaders probably can. Whether their rank-and-file will be able or willing to do the same is another matter.
Can you remember a time when the political zeitgeist has ping-ponged the way ours has in just two months? The day after last November’s election, Barack Obama was finished. Now, two positive jobs reports and a 60-odd-cent-per-gallon drop in gasoline prices later, he’s the president again. And the Republicans have just taken power and have run Congress for only two weeks, but suddenly they’re kind of on the defensive.
Of course this isn’t to say that Obama is going to get a single plank of the ambitious agenda he laid out in the State of the Union Address through Congress. The Republicans still hold those cards.
But what’s happened in the last couple of months, and what Obama seized effectively with this speech, is this. The mood has changed. The public is open to ideas it wasn’t open to a year ago; even two months ago….
…. But in real-life political terms, he was right at least insofar as you can’t get people to think about longer-term economic goals when they’re out of a job, or underemployed. But once that’s turned, you can.
That is what’s turning now—not turned, but turning. And that is what is about to make our political conversation be about this new one thing: sharing the prosperity. The speech was not a great speech, a speech for the ages; but it did understand that, and it did tap into that. People are now willing to start thinking about longer-term economic goals.
That really should worry Republicans, no matter how many seats they have in Congress. Our politics is becoming about one big thing on which the Republicans have nothing to say. Actually, they do have something to say, and it’s “No!” They looked ridiculous, sitting on their hands, refusing to applaud simple and obvious things that have 60, 65 percent public support. I have a feeling more such moments await them.
Pajama Media’s Stephen Green:
As I wrote here last week:
This isn’t about spending. It’s about picking a fight with Congress, which is the one thing left keeping Obama relevant, and the one thing other than campaigning he was ever any good at.
The GOP leadership should declare Obama’s budget and tax increases DOA, and simply refuse to discuss them — even with members of the Complicit Media who will insist Congress play along with the President’s agenda.
Congress has plenty to do, plenty to talk about, plenty of members just as smart (really) as anyone in the White House. They have no need to follow the script written by a lame-duck troll, even if he is armed with a phone and a pen.
If anyone doubts Obama’s intentions, just listen to senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer explaining the president’s economic proposals on “Meet the Press.” “Some of them are going to be legislative proposals Republicans may not love, but we’ll push them on them,” Pfeiffer said. “Some of them will be executive actions.”
In any event, Pfeiffer pledged the White House will use “every lever we can” to get what Obama wants.
Republicans should take such a strategy very seriously. In the 2006 midterm elections, the lame duck George W. Bush lost the House and Senate. If there was any message from the election, it was that Americans were sick and tired of the Iraq war, which was going very badly. And yet somehow Bush shaped the political conversation in early 2007 to focus on how big a surge of troops was needed in Iraq. Bush leveraged his fundamental constitutional powers as commander-in-chief and his White House megaphone to frustrate the new Democratic majority.
That doesn’t have to happen this time. Republicans have the mojo and the momentum. They just got elected, have fresh faces in their new majority, and have several ready-to-go agenda items that had been bottled up in the Senate under now-former Majority Leader Harry Reid. If they are united, and if they are smart, Republicans can push Obama into a defensive crouch.
But the GOP should always beware the president. Even a weak, lame duck chief executive has the power to make things happen in Washington. Obama appears ready to use his to the fullest.
Obama rolled through the popular individual economic proposals (packaged as “middle-class economics”) with some panache: paid family and medical leave, pay equity, overtime pay.
Republicans have only arisen in the two tributes to vets.
Weird vibe during Obama’s request for Trade Promotion Authority: total silence for a moment there, with brief burst of Democratic applause when Obama admitted trade agreements have not always worked out in the past.
Nifty contextualization of Keystone XL pipeline as just one of many infrastructure projects, and not one of the better ones.
Obama’s much ballyhooed tax proposals covered with amazing brevity. Hard to say it’s the centerpiece of “middle class economics.”
I guess request for authorization of force resolution re IS was mild surprise. Interesting that reminders that deployment in Afghanistan is over got more space in speech.
Obama clearly enjoying himself on Cuba policy switch, watching Republicans squirm.
Gotta wonder if something imminent is in works with Iran, given very specific veto threat on new sanctions.
Things the Republican Party could not bring themselves to clap for tonight, a (much) condensed list.
*An improving economy
*A soaring stock market
*Americans getting health insurance
*Mention of “solar power”
*Tax cuts for working families (A tax cut Republicans don’t like?)”
*Tax cuts for families with children (Another one?)
*Equal pay for women
*”America has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and all advanced economies combined.”
*A “free and open internet”
*Rewarding companies that “invest in America” (C’mon, really?)
*A resolution for the use of the force against ISIL
Go the link to read the rest.
A CROSS SECTION OF TWEETS:
Just had a Republican friend text me and call this speech "Reagan-esque."
— John Avlon (@JohnAvlon) January 21, 2015
Obama was killing it tonight; America that is!
— Gary Beasley (@theabundantgift) January 21, 2015
Pity the networks. As the years of a presidency roll on, it gets tougher and tougher to build up interest in a #SOTU.
— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato) January 21, 2015
Obama: "I have no more campaigns to run." Republicans: *applause* All: *laughter* Obama: "I know because I won both of them." #SOTUBURN.
— Mashable (@mashable) January 21, 2015
Reaction when Obama said "the right to vote is sacred." Republicans are farthest from the camera. pic.twitter.com/XVs98NgeHG
— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) January 21, 2015
Shorter Obama: Come at me, Republicans. #sotu
— Chris Cillizza (@TheFix) January 21, 2015
I’ll save you 45 mins. Obama will decry Republicans, beat up on private business and argue for more “free stuff". Your welcome. #SOTU2015”
— Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) January 21, 2015
Obama's Small Ball Is Making Republicans Itch http://t.co/1KBYDLQQK4
— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) January 20, 2015
when do we get to the part where Obama burns the constitution and declares himself the kenyan socialist emperor god of the universe? #SOTU
— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) January 21, 2015
Are we just ignore the FACT that Obama is still a Kenyan? #SOTU
— Andrew Wixson (@AndrewWixson) January 21, 2015
I love watching Republicans squirm when Obama talks about how strong the economy is.
— Charlie Megenity (@CharlieMegenity) January 21, 2015
Fox News just called Congress a Muslim "no go Zone" because Obama is there speaking #SOTU2015
— Dean Obeidallah (@Deanofcomedy) January 21, 2015
UPDATE: A lot more blog reaction is pouring in.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.