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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Social Commentary:
Grading Obama's 2010 State of The Union

I watched Obama's 2010 State of the Union in its entirety last night. I was wholly engaged the first 45 to 50 minutes, then my attention started to wane. It wasn't his best speech. It wasn't his best performance. It was, however, a small glimpse of fire and a much-needed reminder that the candidate I helped elect, still exists in there, somewhere.  Here's how Social Angst graded the President's first State of The Union Address:

If I’m being honest, I was a little disappointed in the speech. Off the bat, the speech was about 15 minutes too long. It was also redundant. There were too many (less than subtle) mentions of the W. Bush era. One reference, for the benefit of setting the record straight on federal spending, played perfectly and would have sufficed. Unfortunately, eluding to Bush a second and third time, played more like laying blame than clarifying for accuracy.

I was also left missing the majesty that I have come to expect from an Obama speech, which are typically intelligent, eloquent and inspirational. Yesterday, I assume for sobering affect, Obama and his team took a page from John McCain and aimed for straight talk instead of a moving soliloquy. This wasn’t a rally call. Sentences were kept brief and cadence was terse, perhaps as a means to “get down to business”. My heart did no cartwheels, my love for language and its masterful manipulation was left unrequited.

There were some high points though. My inbred American pride swelled slightly as he proclaimed that he would “not accept second place for America”. And he my heart swooned after the lines “Let's invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let's meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let's try common sense.”
The overall tone of the speech was slightly more explanative than I would have liked, though I understand it was necessary. In rereading the transcript, I see that there was an attempt to strike a balance between defending the actions of his first year and outlining his plan for next. Unfortunately, in watching the speech, the balance was less apparent.

Graded: B-

Watching Obama speak from behind a podium is always a slight disappointment. Obama is at his best with a microphone in hand, sleeves rolled up, and on a stage where he can roam freely. Behind a podium, he tends to look stifled and his normally relaxed nature is less effective behind the stately piece of furniture.

Throughout the speech, there was one body language issue that really held my attention – his hands. I found my self somewhat distracted watching him restrain his natural tendency to articulate his point with his hands. It looked as if he had been coached to reign in his animation by clasping his fingers and placing them atop the podium. For some reason it bugged me, I suspect because in my mind the censorship of body language rings slightly less than genuine. Not a major pitfall, just a minor annoyance (born from my own overly analytical mind).

Graded: A-

The greatest aspect of Obama’s speech was by far his return to strategy. Watching him speak last night finally allowed me to pinpoint what his political persona has been lacking over the last few months. During the campaign, we were introduced to a smart, subtle, patient and calculating candidate. While he has always played nice, posturing impeccably as the picture of self-control, never throughout the campaign did he seem like a wimp. Never did he allow his opponents or the media to misrepresent him or his stance on an issue at length. He was always strategic in dealing with inaccuracies – dismissing them with subtle, witty, and matter of fact rebuttals that set the record straight. Over the last few months, however, Obama has been a shadow of his campaign persona. His reactions to the media and his adversaries have lacked strategy (or at least strategy that is easily recognizable to common citizens, pundits, and political enthusiasts such as myself). No doubt that the Obama team has always had a political plan – unfortunately that plan was completely lost on the rest of us.

Last night, however, the Obama team made a return to preparedness and strategy and it was a pure joy to watch. He used everything in his available arsenal to set the record straight. First and foremost, he used the forum to educate the average American viewer - those people whose interpretation of politics is surmised almost totally by the opinions of their favorite partisan media personality. He set the record straight on his policy initiatives– passing the stimulus bill in the face of huge opposition, bailing out the banks for the greater good of the American economy in the face of public dismay and personal ideological conflict, and attempting to reform health care at the cost of his own political well being – outlining how above all he has made the American populace his top priority. He outlined his various attempts at bipartisan politicking and masterfully used the audience, specifically the unenthusiastic Republican portion of his audience, to show the American people how the GOP consistently rejected his policy “olive branches”. That being, perhaps, his greatest accomplishment of the night!

Graded: A+.

Since the beginning, Obama’s biggest political ally has been the common people. Last night it seemed like he remembered that. Helping the average American understand what’s going on in Washington is a gift he’d been previously squandering. Let’s hope he can keep this momentum. Let’s hope he can remember that for America to support him, they must first understand what the hell is going on.

Overall Grade for the SOTU: B+
It was an excellent start to his sophomore year.

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