Live blogging the speech

We’re watching the NBC feed – where’s Tim Russert when you need him?

Note that Jim Bunning is paying particularly close attention to how well Justice Ginsburg navigates her entrance.

9:06  Hillary has made the slowest entrance for a cabinet member I’ve ever seen.  She needs her camera time…

9:10  Does Nancy look a bit happier standing next to Joe Biden?

One of the most impressive speeches I ever saw in this chamber occurred when Bill Clinton stood behind the podium only to see the wrong speech on the teleprompter. He never missed a beat….

Lots of talk by the NBC commentators about how Obama is up in the polls – historically, he’s not actually up that much.  If I get a chance, I’ll try to get the average gallup poll approval ratings. But in the last gallup poll I saw, it looked like Obama had lost about 10% since taking office.   This is expected, and historically about par for the course…..

Obama misses his mark, and steps on Nancy toes – he’s eager to start!

First applause line – (my over/under is six).  He’s taken Bill Clinton’s advice and a page out of the Reagan playbook – emphasize the American spirit.

Tough love – will this play in middle America?  I’m not sure he wants to go here…

The first partisan split!  Republicans aren’t applauding the American Recovery act…. (Nancy is giddy!)

THere’s John McCain (What?  Me? Skeptical?)

No one messes with Joe?!  Tell that to Jill…

Geez Louise – they’re even applauding the cut off credit in America.  this is an applause happy crowd.

HIllary is on the brink of dozing off – jet lag has hit!

Joe Lieberman is not all that excited about blaming banks for not spending money

Uh oh – here comes the totally bogus attack on CEO perks…easy applause line but a stupid issue. Playing the populist card.

obama’s speechmaking strength really isn’t in these types of intimate settings – he seems just a bit off his game here – stumbling over words, mistiming the applause lines.  He’s going for the soaring applause lines that dont’ work in congressional chambers.

I can’t believe he using building the railroads as a reminder of what government can do!

9:40 – this seems to be the theme of the speech – that government can be a catalyst to spur the private sector.

I think he just hit the over/under on standing O’s….

Lots of generic themes here that get applause but it’s not immediately obvious that he’s really addressing the real tradeoffs that must be made to, for example, make the automotive industry competitive.  HOw do you do that without rewarding their past mistakes?

Health care reform?  Sure it’s time – but what do you have in mind?  (SChip – red meat for the Dem’s). Electronic recordkeeping?  Seeking a cure for cancer?  Quality healthcare for all Americans?  Sure, tell us how to do it.  (Applause…)

Nancy is jumping to her feet before Joe realizes it’s time to applaud.

I’m beginning to wonder whether this speech is beginning to lose focus – he’s drifting far beyond the economy and laying out an ambitious agenda for his entire presidency.

Nice touch in remembering Ted Kennedy, but it does come across a bit like an early eulogy.

And now he’s become “Father-in-Chief” lecturing us on childrearing!

And now the Republicans finally get a chance to cheer – eliminating deficits (but “inherited”!).  Republicans aren’t buying any of this….

Nancy is becoming a distraction back there… . who is she pointing at?

In case there was any doubt, bipartisanship in Congress on budgetary issues is dead (if it ever was alive…)

Lots and lots of applause lines, but not much policy specific.  I’m really beginning to wonder what he’s trying to do with this speech..

did you see our Guvenator, Jim Douglas, take advantage of his camera time?  Very smartly done Governor!

Lots of balance here, as in “we’ll leave Iraq, but beat terrorists”.  He’s playing to both sides, at the risk of appearing not to have his own set of principles. That’s the difficulty of charting a center path….

And now the obligatory rhetorical upswing – hope!  inspiration! Ordinary Americans!

And here comes the human interest stories…Reagan pioneered these and few did it better than he did.

Still pushing the bipartisanship rock up the hill

Spirit – all my words are in, just under the wire!

I’m interested in how these speech is received. I think he was trying to set a tone here, rather than deal in specifics. At times, he seemed to be channeling FDR in trying to explain why and how the credit crunch was affecting them.  But there wasn’t very much of this, and it certainly was much longer and much more detailed than an FDR fireside chat.  If that was his intent, I’m not sure he really accomplished it.

He’s laid out a huge agenda, but without much in the way of specifics of achieving it.  He gave Americans  a bit of tongue lashing, but also tried to harp on the can-do American spirit.  It was a difficult path to walk.  Rhetorically, he made use of the “this won’t happen again” or “this stops now” device repeatedly.

Ok – let’s hear the Republican response from Bobby Jindal (and is anyone still listening?)

Is he already running for president?  I thought he was supposed to make the Republican case!

Ah!  Nice twist on Katrina! – don’t expect the federal government to bail you out!  Very nicely done…

Spirit! bingo!  This is right out of the Reagan playbook – government won’t save you..but will that fly in this economy?

This is a familiar refrain from Republicans, but I’m not sure it will play in this climate…

He’s laying down the REpublican markers:

No government-run health care

REnewable energy – and more drilling for oil

School choice – education through either public or private schools

Ethics reform…  (there’s a real irony here that a Louisiana governor is talking ethics!)

Interesting twist on the Katrina story…

It’s clear what the Republicans are going to do: reject the Bush years as a betrayal of Republican values, and return to the Reagan values of smaller government, markets and emphasizing the “American spirit”.   This is a risky gambit.  When Reagan ran on this, he could point big government as the culprit.  It’s not clear that message will work as well today. Will voters buy it? I’m not sure the situation is ripe for a reprise of Reaganism.

some final thoughts: Technically, this wasn’t Obama’s best speech – not even close. And his policy proposals lacked specifics. Having said that, he swung for the fences, laying out an ambitious policy agenda for his presidency.  I have to think that Americans are willing to see if he can achieve even half of what he has laid out here.  If he’s successful, I think there’s a real possibility that he could entrench Democratic control of the major political institutions for the next generation.  I don’t think the Republican response is going to attract much support.  The ball is in Obama’s court – Americans are willing to see what he can do.  I think Obama is smart to lay out an ambitious agenda in the hope that Democrats can capitalize on this crisis to remind Americans that government can play a positive role in their lives.   For that reason, despite the lack of execution, I think this speech is probably going to be a net plus for Obama….I’ll be on tomorrow to assess reactions, but for now, I think Obama helped his cause.

So , what do you think?


  1. Professor Dickinson,

    I like your final take on the speech – Obama certainly avoided specifics in terms of laying out concrete commitments, but it was nevertheless a very important speech. The role of a strong leader is to get the big things right, and I think Obama put his party in a very strong position going forward.

    The headline on Politico this morning captured part of what made the speech effective – “Conservative Words for a Liberal Agenda.” Obama is very good at framing traditional liberal policy positions in a way that is more palatable to conservative voters. He also has a tendency to harp on about individual responsibility (like the line about parenting), which in the past has been more of a Republican emphasis.

    The speech was also noteworthy because it sounded more like a campaign speech, not only in style, but also in substance. Obama is not changing course with respect to some of his most important campaign promises – health care, education, action to counter global warming, and changes to American military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. To be sure, it is a very ambitious agenda. But it makes a lot of sense to set the bar high and then allow oneself room to maneuver when the actual bargaining begins.

    I want to press you, though, on aftermath of the stimulus package, particularly because we are starting to see some poll data collected after Obama signed the bill. Polls from several different organizations suggest that a majority of voters recognized Obama for his attempts to build bipartisan support for the bill, while at the same time blaming Congressional republicans for their (mostly) uniform opposition.


    I’m not suggesting that Obama’s handling of the stimulus package was flawless, nor am I arguing that Congressional Democrats had no part in the partisan manner in which the bill passed; I am arguing, though, that public opinion continues to be on Obama’s side and that his attempts to reach out to Republicans have been noticed by the public. On the basis of these polls, I think it is safe to say that the stimulus package did not damage Obama’s power prospects moving forward, at least when it comes to his “prestige.”

    I also continue to believe that the Republicans have yet to come up with a good way of responding to Obama. Jindal’s performance last night has been panned by almost everyone for its relatively stale content. The idea that Republicans should look to the tone and substance of the Gingrich days seems, in my view, very mistaken. Obama is already a much more popular president than Clinton, and (arguably) already more effective in terms of his leadership. Republicans are also hurt by the fact that the traditional line about “big government” being the problem just doesn’t work during a recession. The line also falls flat because Bush’s years severely undermined the party’s claim to fiscal conservatism. It will take time for the party to move beyond Bush’s shadow.

    In any case, Professor, I am very interested in your response. I enjoyed your appearance on VPR. Your thoughtful remarks were a nice contrast to most of the callers, whose emotions seemed to drive their arguments. I guess it’s a reminder that the front lines of democracy are not always as rational as we might hope!

  2. Conor – very thoughtful comments, as always. I want to devote a separate post to the notion of bipartisanship, particularly since I think some of Obama’s advisers, as well as people commenting on this blog recently, appear to be moving the goalposts, as it were, in assessing what Obama hoped to accomplish with “bipartisanship.” In my view, he wanted more than symbols and rhetoric – he wanted real bipartisan action. So far, no dice.

    But to your larger points: I think I am in agreement with almost everything you say. Certainly the wind is at Obama’s back right now; the public is uneasy, he has proposed a solution, and they are willing to give it time to work. Democrats are more willing than Republicans, but that reflects a basic difference in philosophy. I think Obama – like almost all incoming presidents – benefits from a general willingness of Americans to put differences aside, at least initially, in order to see what the president can do.

    As for the Republican approach. I thought Jindal’s response (as I said in the live blogging) just seemed to reflect a basic irrelevance to the problem at hand. When Reagan advocated less government, he did so after 45 years of government dominated by the New Deal/Great Society belief that government could solve problems. That’s not the case today – we are coming off a 35-year period in which Reagan’s idea of smaller government has prevailed (although often in the breach). To be sure, the Bush years did not exemplify that core philosophy very well, although spending on defense might be viewed as compatible with Reaganism. But I think you are right – the Republicans have lost credibility on this issue. Clearly they are trying to restore that credibility by arguing for a smaller, more targeted stimulus bill. But this is a risky approach – to the extent that they are viewed as merely obstructionist, the public will turn against them.

    But let me make a final observation that should serve as a warning to Obama. Americans are (despite much argument on the Left to the contrary) historically suspicious of big government and all that it represents (I hope to show a separate post providing some survey data on this question). The New Deal could pass (in its various incarnations) only because the country faced economic catastrophe (far more dire, so far, than what we face today). When LBJ tried to expand the role of government through his Great Society program at a time of general prosperity, the experience lasted less than a decade before the Republican-led backlash kicked in. If you look at the polling data you provided in your posting, it shows there’s real concern among Americans about the cost of all these programs – they are willing to go along with Obama, but if positive results don’t become obvious, there’s a strong likelihood that the natural American antipathy to larger government may kick in, to the benefit of Republicans. Obama is certainly aware of this, which explains his promise – which he cannot hope to fulfill – to halve the deficit by the end of his first term.

    For now, however, I think Americans want leadership, and they view Obama and the Democrats as providing it.

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