The president uses the State of the Union speech to relaunch his brand.
Also in Slate: Christopher Beam describes the partisan disharmony on the floor of the House during the speech. Bruce Reed praises Obama's reassuring, common-sense blueprint. Fred Kaplan argues the federal spending freeze should extend to the Pentagon, too. See images from Obama's first year in office, as well as past presidential speeches, from Magnum Photos.
The speech also had internal inconsistencies. When talking about why bipartisanship broke down so soon after 9/11, Obama said he didn't want to relitigate the past. But throughout the earlier part of the speech he did relitigate the past, explaining how Republican policies ruined the economy. (He was, however, more restrained than Reagan, who in his 1982 State of the Union address relitigated the past by blaming Jimmy Carter for America's woes.)
Listeners might also find an inconsistency when the president said, "No, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it's an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern." Pledges of excessive rectitude are always a little hard to take. (Obama himself made fun of John Edwards during the campaign for statements like this.) It's even harder to take when just a few weeks ago Obama was beating up on Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Though Obama said he didn't know much about his policies, he said the Republican candidate was in the pocket of the insurance companies and banks and that he was a phony trying to dupe voters.
These inconsistencies were there during the campaign, of course, but people were willing to forgive or overlook them. Now that he's been president for a year, Obama can't count on voters to be so magnanimous.
As expected, the president called for a spending freeze and said he would name a commission to tackle the deficit. He said he would work with Congress and the military to reverse the ban on gays serving in the armed forces. He asked Congress to reconsider health care reform, but his call for action was no more emphatic than before. The president said he wanted health care reform finished by the State of the Union, and so it may well be—just not in the sense that he hoped for. Nothing in the speech changed that dynamic.
The State of the Union speech was intended, at least in part, to remind voters that the president is the same guy they elected 14 months ago. It's another similarity the speech shares with the iPad: They were seen as possibly reviving troubled enterprises (the publishing industry and the Obama brand). The president's speech was another of his good ones. But like the iPad and publishing, it's not clear how much the good packaging really will help the venture.
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