Live Blogging the State of the Union Address

9 pm. Ok. we are watching the NBC feed.

Things to look forward to tonight:

1. The media narrative.  Look for lots of talk about Obama needing to “right the ship”, reassert control of the agenda, turn things around, reconnect with the people, etc.

2.  Tone – look for Obama to come out with his new populist stance.   I’ve put the over/under for mentions of “fight” or “fighting” or versions thereof  at 9.

3.  Republican reaction – they want to signal their willingness to work with Obama, so can’t come across as too stridently opposed.  Look for them to applaud on jobs related tax cuts or education.

4.  Audience reaction.  Historically, presidents rarely get a popular boost from the state of the union, in large part because the audience is predominantly supporters.

5. Obama needs to simplify his message. He has a tendency to work too many themes into his national addresses.  He needs to focus on one thing tonight:  jobs, jobs, jobs.

6.  Other than a brief mention of health care – I don’t think he’ll focus too much on it.  Of course, he’ll stress the need to pass comprehensive health care, and it will get big applause from Democrats, but I think that train may have left the station.

(Jack’s taking the over on the fighting references.  Anyone else?)

He’s on – look for about an hour speech  with applause.

Boy he sounds alot like Fred Armisen!

Worst of storm has passed….perhaps.

Chris – good catch.  Jefferson presented it in writing to Congress and that set a precedent until Wilson.

As usual,  Nancy is chewing something – incredibly distracting. Is it a throat lozenge?

He’s clearly taking the middle-class, man of the people populist tack.

First applause line:  hopefulness hits home!

We do not give up, we don’t quit (Churchill – we will never surrender)….applause again for the Amurican people…

And who are the evil people!  the banks!  We all hate the banks! (How’s Tim Geithner feeling right now?)

Oh, he supported the “last administration’s bank bailout program” – how long can he play that card?

I forget – did he cut taxes?

Real interesting play here – do you notice how playful he is?  A real effort here to break through the “cerebral aloof” Obama and try to connect with the middle class.  It’s all part of the package – jobs, taxes, man of the people and more jobs for real people.  Smart, smart, smart!

And no mention of health care!

Jobs, jobs, jobs.  He gets it.  The question is: how do you pay for a jobs  bill.

Republicans like America’s business!

A critic might suggest that in order to grow businesses, you need banks to loan money… and he jumps on it.   Fitting with the populist theme, we are helping “small business” – never the big businesses.

Tax credits – this is a line out of the Republican playbook – ended capital gains.

The Left has to be incensed here – this is really a pretty centrist agenda: tax cuts, tax breaks, tax incentives –  Obama has seen the light, and it ain’t the moving Left.   Say goodbye Daily Kos, Andy Sullivan, etc.

Is that the first mention of health care?  Chris says yes…

“I’m not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!”  Let’s go Otter!

Where is this segment going besides drawing applause?  is he leading up to health care?

Financial regulation – a veto threat!  He’s trying to show some spine.  I’m sure people are wishing he said the same thing for health care  – where is health care?

How the times have changed – bipartisan support for nuclear power!   Offshore oil drilling!  Nancy just swallowed her tongue!   What party is he representing?  This is amazing!!

This is a rather lukewarm endorsement of the climate bill!

Jaime has a link to what commentators are saying (see her comment for the link)

We are all for exports, but how do you increase them when companies are laying off workers and banks aren’t loaning? This is meaningless boilerplate – enforcing trade agreements, strengthen trade relations, blah blah blah. Meaningless…

Education is a potentially bipartisan issue – Bush capitalized on this.  I think he can get Republicans on this….a mixture of spending and stricter accountability.  Win-Win…

Community colleges – another shoutout to working families, and a shot at banks profiting on students loans for good measure.  Again, a nice touch…

Here that Midd students?  You shouldn’t go broke listening to me lecture!

Finally – health care.  No laughing matter….

This ought to be interesting – does he double down, or pay lip service to reform?  (A shoutout to Michelle – she doesn’t look real enthused!)

The CBO estimate just isn’t going to cut it.  If he’s serious about reform he’d drop that.  This is lip service unless he comes out specifically for what’s in one of the two current bills.  Let’s see if he’s serious…

Take another look?  He just kicked it under the bus…

Health care just died.   He threw in the towel….A year of effort and it’s done.

Let’s move on … and he is on to the deficit….and blaming the previous guys…

(Chris A.  – are you arguing that he’s serious about pushing for health care?)

Nancy does not like a spending freeze…

A second veto threat – but this is largely meaningless because he just exempted roughly 3/5 of spending in the form of Medicare and Social Security and the Defense Department.   Totally meaningless…

Still another bipartisan commission to study Medicare  — politically safe and a clear sign that he’s passing it on to another generation of Americans.

A freeze that takes place next year?  That’s how budgeting works?   There’s the lead Youtube video….sigh…

Who took the “under” on fighting – I haven’t heard the word yet?

(Jack – that’s the second veto threat by my count).

Lobbying disclosure, yawn…. .

See Bert Johnson for an opposing perspective on the impact of the Court decision – he suggests it will have no impact at all, or very little…

Earmark reform.  I hear he also wants to outlaw rain falling on weekends….

Transparency?  After how the health care negotiations took place?

A subtle jab at filibusters and holds…. .

He is still digging the bipartisan hole – it plays well, but it simply is unrealistic without action

(Chris – I think your take on health care is right..)

Amy – yes, it was!

Boy, he’s really playing the “friendly” card…

You watch, he’s still going to have to play tough on security…  and there it is.  More Al Quaeda captured or killed than the previous guy did!

“Combat” troops out means roughly 30,000 Americans will still be there by most estimates – all the troops will not be coming home.

(Chris – don’t pick on Max.  I’m surprised he’s up!)

Instead of going to funerals, Joe Biden does commissions….

Jack – No, he doesn’t really believe we are leaving Iraq, but he gets around it with the use of “combat troops”…..

what consequences, in particular?   My mother used to threaten me with that …. “you just try me!”

jaime – you are absolutely right – really treading a careful line there to sound tough but not alienate the base.

He’s finishing with reference to American values, and relatively bipartisan issues.

Again, how exactly does he work with Congress to repeal don’t ask, don’t tell?  He could end it now, with a stroke of the pen!   This is mostly rhetorical fluff here – no real hard choices, no details, instead an appeal to abstract principles and promises to do “the right thing” with little recognition that if it was so easy to do that, it would have taken place already.

And here’s the reference back to his no Republican or Democratic values – only American values.

Anyone watching focus groups here?  How’s this change mantra playing?  Are people listening?

Too much pointing fingers – this from the guy who spent much of this speech pointing the finger at Bush!

He just threw health care under the bus – and he’s criticizing others for failing to do what’s hard?  Is this playing?

Marty – my read at the outset is that the Republicans were going to play this really safe – they have the political winds at their back and don’t want to provide any pretext for voters to turn against them…

Ok – talking heads time – what are you hearing?  What’s the first take?

My initial thoughts:

1. The obvious omission here was health care – he essentially signaled that he won’t push for the current bill.  It’s back to the drawing board.

2. Second, the Republicans were on their best behavior.  The political winds are at their back and they really didn’t do much catcalling although there were a couple of moments of snickering.

3.  Obama was clearly trying to come across as more personal, more human, more emotional. He understands that people are angry – he’s angry too.

4.  He clearly caught the message from Massachusetts – from here on it’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs…much of the substantive focus was on taxes – cuts, exemptions, credits, etc. – very Republicanesque.  Nuclear power, offshore drilling – he has clearly signaled, in light of Massachusetts, that’s he moving to the Center and daring the Republicans not to work with him.   I think it is a very good strategy, but it will have the netroots in open revolt tomorrow….  .

This is a man who is politically chastened, who sees support among the middle eroding and who is facing a potential loss of the Democrat’s working majority in a matter of months unless the economy begins turning around.

The biggest problem:  can he get a bitterly divided Congress to take up his proposals?


jack agrees, a move to the middle.  Others?  do you agree he threw health care under the bus,  and has adopted Clinton’s triangulation strategy, only this time doing it before losing the Congress, whereas Clinton did it after losing the Congress?

let’s watch the Republican response.  Clearly they’ve learned from the Jindal fiasco, when he gave the speech from a hallway in his house!  This setting is much more fitting…

(Jack – no t-shirt. I didn’t hear fight once.  I heard alot about Amuricans….)

The Republican reaction is on: it’s  jobs, jobs, jobs – and you won’t get it through more government!  It’s an easy pitch, but will it work without being matched with reform?  The private sector got us into this mess  … Republicans have to have a program….I guess the program is Facebook and Twitter – he’s going for the 18-29 year old vote.

Drill, baby, drill!

(Jack – you are welcome – great participation tonight.  Even Max!)

Jaime – agreed.  the techo-references just don’t fly.

Wow – Scott Brown is now the face of the Republican party!   And a shot at Obama and Dem’s for coddling the Christmas bomber.  That’s a winner….

And the common Republican themes – federalism, individual choice, deregulation….the Reagan mantra.

(Is that young lady crying?  Or is she on painkillers?)

OK, that’s it… I’ll be on a bit more taking final thoughts while I unwind with a scotch and, of course, tomorrow I’ll try to give an update on the post-speech reactions.  My sense is that the netroots are going to be completely up in arms here.

Chris – do you mean the “rainbow” coalition seating behind McDonnell?   I thought they were typical republicans!

I have an early departmental meeting tomorrow, so I’m going to call it a night.  Great participation from everyone – you outdid five thirty eight tonight in terms of comments.  And, of course, you were alot smarter… .

More tomorrow…


  1. Matt, what do you think about the cross-the-isle theatrics tonight? A bit of a change from Joe “You Lie!” Wilson. I see Republicans at least applauding on some occasions are they surprised by what they hear, or is this just part of the “Party of Yes” PR push?

  2. Interesting that Obama represents an executive order as a position of strength. In reality, strong presidents rally Congress to do what they want.

  3. I think that he is giving it one final shot with a vocal call to arms. However, I do not believe he will invest any more political capital on the issue. He is hoping that the same thing that got him elected (his ability to speak to the people) will be the final push across the finish line. But thats it.

  4. An end of perpetual campaigns sounds so good, but a reform of how our modern system of government operates seems like wishful thinking. But, everyone loves when presidents promise to clean up inside the beltway even though they always get swept up in political necessity before any change happens.

  5. Does he really believe we are leaving Iraq in good shape, that the war is ending and ALL of our troops are coming home?

  6. Hmmm, no mention of Gitmo though, a year after Obama vowed to close it. I think liberals may have to write that off as a lost cause at this point. However, he is still committed to ending occupation of Iraq. Also calling for nonproliferation. Yet, his statement that “For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity” is quite similar to the value-based foreign policy of the past eight years. Like his domestic overview, his is clearly treading a careful line between trying to appease his base and trying to appeal to the center and right.

  7. Sigh. The end and the beginning of the speech were replete enough with rhetorical flourishes to make me happy. NBC described the chamber as “boisterous” and compared speech to “great journey.” Part about trying to reform Washington apparently added to speech after Massachusetts. According to Chuck Todd, it was to appease “angry public.”

  8. According to Gallup Poll, presidential approval is usually unaffected by State of Union address.

    Also, a poll that showed the public in Massachusetts thinks Congress should go back to the drawing board with health care reform — perhaps part of reason behind Obama’s almost omission of one of the most important issues of the past year?

  9. Thanks, Matt, for hosting this SOTU blog. Definitely the best way to watch a speech or an election; and very flattering to see all your students following along.

  10. Headline from TPM nicely sums up State of Union: Obama To Dems: Get With It! — To Republicans: Play Nice!

  11. I think he saw the writing on the wall from Mass. He watched the people of a traditionally Democratic state underline what will be so important in November… the economy. He tossed aside what he campaigned on “change” so to turn to the middle and “politic and campaign.” Which, ironically was the very thing he asked Congress to stop doing. He is trying to learn from 1994 and the flaws of the Clinton administration. He gave healthcare a papertiger defense in hopes that it can jump the final hurdle with the help of his speech. But in reality he will throw it under the bus so to try and save a working majority in November. Will it work? Time will tell. There was some sustenance in the speech but a lot of fluff to go with it.

  12. CNN isn’t buying the whole live audience as a ploy to excite the people. And yea, that was a great bunch of folks.

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