The President's State of the Union speech provides a warning to conservatives: he remains a skilled orator; the mainstream media still loves him (see the New York Times' "fact check"); he does have some accomplishments to talk about - killing bin Laden, saving General Motors, ending the war in Iraq; he will have $1 billion to vilify those who would divide us; the economy is probably mending; and he moved from governing to campaigning several months ago. After three months of focus on Republican campaigns and primaries it is chilling to watch Obama deliver an hour's worth of applause lines.
As for the speech itself, three categories of thoughts:
1. The mood. Optimism and "fairness" sell. Much of the conservative storyline is cast in negative terms - the debt; the weight of regulations; protection of the fat cats. Mitch Daniels did a nice job of expressing Republican principles of liberty, opportunity, and American exceptionalism in his little-watched response. Any successful Republican (at any level) needs to get beyond defending himself and attacking Republicans and Obama, and instead become identified with a positive program that affects real people.
- Obama claims improved relations with our allies - camera pans to a beaming Hillary. That would be except Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Mexico which have been directly offended. Places like the European Union, Japan, China, India, Russia, and Brazil seem to be about the same. Who knows what is happening in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and the rest of the Middle East. Maybe he is referring to Burma.
- His policies are creating jobs at a rapid pace - 3 million by his count. This will definitely be a second derivative argument - it's not about where we are (25 million unemployed, underemployed, or given up), or the direction (well short of the 200- 400,000 hires per month that we would have been seeing for the last year or two in a normal recovery); it is about the rate of change of the change - getting a bit better.
- We have put in place effective sanctions against Iran. Except that the European embargo does not begin for six months and Russia, China, India, and other Asian countries are not included.
3. The omissions. Something has to be cut out when you only have an hour to talk - or when you do polling on voter response.
- Health care - his "signature achievement" got hardly a mention.
- The $16 trillion debt or its cousin, the European debt crisis. That's the obsession of the nasty Republican obstructionists.
- Entitlements. Let the Republicans wander into that brier patch.
The note for Republican partisans is that the president has lots of opportunities to give speeches and he is good at it. Gingrich might be able to trounce him in a debate, but there will be only one or two of those even if Newt gets the banner. On the other hand, the comparison between the Obama approach of more government solutions to every problem and the conservative approach of small government, free enterprise, and personal responsibility could not be more stark. Let's find an optimist who believes in the wisdom of the people.
This week's bonus is a "Green Papers" starter kit for readers who want to track the nominating process through the Republican convention in Tampa in late August.