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Looking Back at SOTUs Past

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"Looking Back at SOTUs Past"

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I thought it was good of Ezra Klein to look back at his commentary on the 2010 State of the Union Address:

There are a fair number of speeches that Barack Obama has given that I can recall quite clearly. But the 2010 State of the Union isn’t one of them. Looking back, I seem to have liked it well enough. And I apparently thought it had been sold as “a make-or-break speech for the president.” But it wasn’t. Single speeches virtually never are (for Obama, the ‘race’ speech in Philadelphia might be an exception). Presidents are too good at speeches to be broken by them, and Washington is too used to speeches to be transformed by them (though there was a time when that wasn’t true). And the same goes for tonight’s address.

I also loved the speech and also can’t remember it at all. In my defense, though, I correctly predicted that it didn’t matter at all:

I think Bob McDonnell gave arguably the best SOTU response I’ve ever seen—the choice to go with an audience is a big win. It still wasn’t a good speech, per se, but it didn’t suck. And that’s a triumph.

As for Obama, I thought it was just great. A reminder that Obama is fantastic at delivering formal speeches and has a fantastic speechwriting stuff. The past twelve months are a reminder that giving fantastic setpiece speeches has limits as a political strategy. You drop out of speech mode into the realm of cold, hard vote-counting and I don’t think anything’s really changed in that regard.

This year the situation is perhaps slightly different if only because possible GOP presidential contenders will be watching and a bravura performance might cause someone to lose his nerve or whatever. I do think people have a persistent tendency to forget how good Obama and his speechwriting team are at delivering formal set-piece addresses, and then when they’re re-surprised by his skills tend to forget how little this matters in practice.

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