President Obama’s State of the Union address last night was arguably one of his best outings as a speaker. He was poised, confident, relaxed, and persuasive. Even, at times, a bit quarterback-style cocky.
A speech is an argument for something. And, Mr. Obama was clearly arguing for support of a liberal agenda that would frame the next Presidential and Congressional elections. Had he been as clear and forceful during the recent election campaign, he might be facing fewer Republicans in Congress. To be fair, though, he had limited opportunities. Most Democratic Congressional candidates ran from Obama, not in alliance with him.
Some credit must go to his speechwriter for an excellent script. Even the best speakers can’t be great with bad material. It was simple, direct, and easy on the tongue. But, Mr. Obama also enhanced it with conversational delivery and some non-scripted asides such as the one to Republicans who sat on their hands while Democrats applauded his recitation of the economic recovery statistics. Looking directly at key Republican politicians, the president quipped: “That’s good news, people.”
His call for tax cuts for the middle class with hikes for the wealthy was a clever strategy intended to put the GOP in a bind, forcing them to choose between Wall Street and Main Street in outlining their positions on tax reform. Success in framing the dialogue is often the determining factor in political battles, a lesson Obama seems to have learned.
Joni Ernst was to me a surprising, and not very good, choice to deliver the Republican response to the president’s address.
The freshman senator from Iowa delivered her message with an unrelenting painted-on smile which could indicate a case of nerves. That’s not surprising. Suddenly finding oneself in the national spotlight without a lot of previous experience would make anyone nervous. That might also account for her sing-song delivery, a pity since she has a beautiful voice.
And, I personally can’t look at her without having to chuckle about her campaign boast of having castrated hogs while growing up on a farm.
But, what surprised me most was the lack of a concentrated head-on attack on the president’s proposals. The Obama plan obviously carries a huge price tag and that should have been a key and insistent point of attack, quoting chapter and verse. I would have expected the argument that his tax proposals would not work, even in the unlikely event they were enacted, causing his spending plan to set back the economic recovery and increase the national debt, key Republican themes.
Overall, I thought her remarks were too general, full of platitudes, and short on conviction. The public, and her party, deserve better.
In sum, Senator Ernst was not ready for prime time.