As his final State of the Union address before the November election, US President Barack Obama’s speech before Congress Tuesday night was hotly anticipated. Predictably, the president’s political allies raved about his full-throated defence of initiatives intended to balance economic power between the country’s rich and its struggling middle class; his Republican adversaries, meanwhile, slammed what they saw as divisive partisan rhetoric and a slate of wrong-headed proposals.
Reviews among top newspaper and magazine editorialists and leading political analysts were more mixed. Here’s a sample of what they had to say:
The New York Times editorial board: The State of the Union address was a chance [for Obama to push harder], and he did not squander it. He sounded many of the same themes as last year, but his tone was sharper and he was far more willing to apportion blame, particularly singling out the financial industry for its excesses and politicians who are still determined to defend tax cuts for the rich and undo desperately needed financial regulations.
Andrew Rosenthal, editor of The New York Times Opinion page: If anyone had any lingering doubts about whether President Obama is ready to fight for his job, the State of the Union address tonight should have dispelled them….It was startling, frankly. I haven’t seen the president this combative since before his inauguration.
Los Angeles Times editorial board: President Obama had two purposes in his State of the Union address on Tuesday: to offer a manifesto for the 2012 campaign and to articulate policy choices to Congress that would benefit the economy. In a speech that was argumentative if not aggressive, he was more successful in achieving the first objective than the second. But overall it was an effective speech.
The Washington Post editorial board: President Obama’s speech Tuesday night combined soaring rhetoric with crowd-pleasing, often small-bore proposals. Mr. Obama spoke movingly about the eroding economic security of much of the middle class…. Mr. Obama is right to take on the unlevel and distorting playing field of a code that taxes ordinary earned income at a much higher rate than investment income….but his proposals would further complicate it.
Jennifer Rubin, conservative columnist, The Washington Post: It was a painfully long and shapeless speech, designed to cheer Democrats and stick his finger in the eyes of Republicans….He talks about Washington being broken as if he were a passive observer -- which I suppose he is….As far as his own policy initiatives, however, it was a shockingly barren speech. But of course, it’s not about governing. It’s about getting re-elected.
Mark Halperin, senior political analyst, Time Magazine: [The speech] achieved a good balance between lofty and accessible but probably could have let a little more of his winning personality show through. [Obama] was optimistic and hopeful about getting things done, although his pleas for cooperation sometimes clashed with his defiant pledges to act without Congress. [He was] firm and confident but without the touch of condescension he occasionally adopts. Despite what his detractors say, |Obama is] fully in command of policy across the board. Still, his arguments were presented a little defensively...and his pitches for new policies were uneven...
Howard Kurtz, Washington bureau chief, Newsweek: This laundry-list speech was an aggressive attempt, and Obama was savvy to lead off with Iraq and close with a moving recitation of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. There were laudable sentiments. But the bar may have been impossible to clear. The state of our union may be “getting stronger,” but Obama knows it’s not strong enough….We’ve known for five years now that Obama can give a great speech. It’s hard to imagine this one will be remembered for long once the campaign heats up.
Julian Zelizer, Princeton University political science professor, CNN contributor: The speech is certainly a good start to [Obama’s] re-election effort….Rather than entering in a defensive posture, focusing just on crisis and conflict, President Obama has instead chosen to define the terms of the debate and to offer a positive vision for the future. He has argued that the values of his administration are as American as apple pie.
Fred Barnes, executive editor, conservative magazine The Weekly Standard: There were some nice patriotic touches, a passel of small proposals, and old ideas like soaking the rich in President Obama’s State of the Union Address. But mostly the speech consisted of an effort to make a big deal out of not much.
John Nichols, political correspondent, left-wing magazine The Nation: It should come as no surprise that Barack Obama used Tuesday night's State of the Union speech to knock the legs out from under an already wobbly Mitt Romney. What was remarkable was the precision with which Obama assaulted the man whom the president’s aides still anticipate will be his Republican challenger….Obama scored an election-season knockout—using the national platform that remains the most powerful of all political weapons available to a sitting president.