I just now finished watching Barack Obama's State of the Union speech. A bit on the late side. Certainly a different experience for me than most recent such events, since I taped it and then watched without the benefit, or distraction, of following along on twitter. So outside of the NYT headline, I haven't seen any reactions at all.
Now, as usual, this is more theater review than anything else; as regular readers know, I don't think the rhetorical flourishes or anything else about the style of the speech make much of a difference to anything. Still, he is the president, and there's nothing wrong with talking about how he did, as long as no one makes any claims about what effect it's going to have. I should say to that the substance can matter -- initiatives he mentioned tonight have a greater chance of action this year than those he ignored, and even if they don't get through Congress this year it still almost certainly boosts their long-term prospects. But I don't have much to say about that sort of substance, other than I thought he was more hawkish than he needed to be on Iran -- and that I'm glad he at least nodded in the direction of nomination reform, which I'll have more to say about in the future.
As far as style...well, it was better than last year, when I thought the writing was seriously off. This year, they mostly dropped rhetorical flourishes, fortunately, outside of a relatively lame (but presumably politically canny) frame about how America should work together just like the troops did when they killed bin Laden. In case, that is, anyone forgot who was president when that happened. Because it was Obama, you know. In case you forgot. So there was that at the beginning and the end, and in between? It was fine. It was okay. It was, as Bill McNeill would have said, full of adequasivity. Not a single memorable phrase, other than a truly unfortunate joke about spilling milk. On the other hand, not a single memorable phrase. The thing was very much structured as a campaign document, which is no surprise, with plenty of campaign themes telegraphed and plenty of inoculation against attacks the White House expects are coming. Most of that, again with the exception of the hawkish Iran stuff, seemed harmless to me. At this point, it probably makes sense to talk up the economic recovery; if people feel that he's out of touch by doing so, he's probably toast anyway, so might as well make with the happy talk and try to build on improvements in economic confidence, even if they are so far at very low levels.
As for the delivery. Three years in, Obama still hasn't found a way to make the setting work for him -- which isn't unusual; the only one I remember who did was Bill Clinton, although Ronald Reagan wasn't bad. Clinton, at least in my memory, treated the people in the room as people, not as props, and that seemed to work. Obama seems to go back and forth between speaking to the room and speaking over their heads to us. To me, I don't feel that he winds up connecting with either (and, again, just to be clear, I'm talking about how he delivers Joint Session speeches and not claiming that it Means Anything or will affect anything).
Oh, I watched Mitch Daniels, too. Again, I haven't read any reviews, but all I could think of is that whoever gave him this thankless task surely wasn't trying to boost his presidential chances, whether (implausibly) for this year or for the future. It's an impossible task, and one which he did about as well as anyone else: in other words, it was terrible.