Obama’s Big Speech: The Punditocracy Reacts

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There was a little something for everybody in the big health-care speech President Obama delivered before a joint session of Congress last night. More than enough nods to the liberal left, a fair share of bi-partisan bridge-building, specifics for those who don't understand what the hell is going on, and lofty rhetoric for those who do know and just want to feel all warm and fuzzy about it. More than many major speeches of the past, last night's was focused on directly bringing about a clear, quantifiable result: getting health-care reform passed. So the question is, did it work?

• Chris Cillizza says the speech was for those on the left "who criticized the president for not being aggressive enough in responding to the misinformation being peddled about the plan." Its "confrontational elements" will "get the base excited again and ready them for the final fight to come." [Fix/WP]

• Jonathan Cohn looks at what news Obama made with the speech, including "explicitly" endorsing "a requirement that everybody obtain insurance — that is, an individual mandate." [Plank/New Republic]

• Nate Silver calls it a "well-delivered speech, and a very, very smart speech" that "will remind people of what they liked about Obama. It won't do miracles. But it will increase, perhaps substantially, the odds of meaningful health care reform passing." Obama was able to successfully appeal to both the liberal base and independents, which was a difficult task. [Five Thirty Eight]

• Josh Marshall thinks "Obama did a solid job laying out the essential elements of his reform, rebuking the liars and laying out some beginnings of an elevating vision of just what this whole effort is about," though considering how much paranoia and lies have characterized the health-care debate lately, its effects will be "difficult to predict." [TPM]

• Andrew Sullivan calls it "[a] masterful speech, somehow a blend of governance and also campaigning." It showed why we elected Obama: "to get past the abstractions of ideology and the easy scorn of the cable circus and the cynicism that has thereby infected this country's ability to tackle pressing problems." [Atlantic]

• Megan McArdle claims there was "virtually nothing that we haven't heard before. The most powerful parts were the beginning and end, but I wonder how many people were watching by the end." Obama will likely get "a modest bump, but one that will be sorely tested as Republicans roll out their attacks." [Atlantic]

• John Podhoretz calls the speech "nearly an hour of snake-oil salesmanship, promises that cannot possibly be kept, and false invocations of bipartisan civility even as he was trying to deliver partisan roundhouses of his own. In that sense, the message he was delivering was no different from the one he delivered in July, and it’s difficult to believe it will suddenly convince people it failed to convince in such recent memory." [Contentions/Commentary]

• Matthew Cooper doesn't know if the speech will work and doesn't think we'll find out "for awhile." It could have used more hope and less focus on the 535 politicians in the room. [Atlantic]

• Jennifer Rubin wonders, "What was the point of this if not to inflame the Right and gin up the Left? Is the president so inured to and so isolated from people with whom he disagrees that he thinks that with a bone like tort reform ... he can get a deal? [Contentions/Commentary]

• Tim Fernholz thinks Obama "seemed to fulfill the expectations of his allies, who had two simple requests for him from this speech (posted in full after the jump): Give us a plan, and give us a narrative to sell it in." [Tapped/American Prospect]

• Kevin Drum was a little irritated by Obama's "relentless attempt to appear bipartisan," but overall "the speech probably helped. It won't affect Republican votes much, but it will probably move public opinion a few notches and make it easier for centrist Dems to stick together and overcome a GOP filibuster." [Mother Jones]

• Hanna Rosin was pleased with "the rousing defense of liberalism" at the speech's end. "For a speech in which he was trying to forge a consensus this was a brave and risky move. You can say to that vast middle of Americans nervous about their own health insurance plans: “There, there, don’t worry, things will be good for you.” And just stop there. Or you can go one step further and move them to a higher plane, which is what he did." [XX Factor/Double X]

• Mickey Kaus calls it a "moderately effective speech." [Kausfiles/Slate]

• David Corn believes that "Obama finally defined fully the debate, the policy, and the values underlying the need for reform. He was both practical-minded and passionate. He was combative at moments, and reasonable-sounding at others. He showed some of his cards, though not all. The question is, can a powerhouse of a speech at this point in the process — when various camps have dug their trenches — alter the terrain?" [Mother Jones]

• Eugene Robinson says "Obama’s speech was eloquent, well-constructed, logically compelling and full of facts and figures. As hard as it would be for any politician to deliver a memorable speech on a subject as wonkish as health care, Obama managed to do so with grace. The real impact was emotional, not informational." [Post Partisan/WP]

• Karen Tumulty thinks the speech "attempted to be not a description of the ideal, but rather one of the doable." Obama "tried to steer" health-care reform "back into the center lane, if there is such a thing to be found on an endeavor so ambitious as remaking one-sixth of the economy." [Swampland/Time]

• Walter Shapiro contends this was "probably his best speech since the 2004 Convention keynote address that put this little-known Illinois state senator on the staircase to the stars." [Politics Daily]

• Katrina vanden Heuvel writes that the speech "had a bipartisan flavor, but with a progressive spine." Though the "the shout-outs to the left were at times patronizing — as if he had to do triangulation 2.0," the speech was also "Obama's fullest, most eloquent and formal defense of liberalism and the clearest exposition of his view of government's role." [Nation]

• Noam Scheiber thinks Obama did a good job distilling the health-care proposal down to its core elements: "'It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don’t. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government.' Not quite bumper-sticker length, but as close as a Democratic health plan is going to come, I think." [Stash/New Republic]

• Michael Gerson claims the speech was nothing new — "the same approach, the same arguments and the same straw men, with the only major difference being a sharpened tone against opponents." Obama "provided few reasons for anyone to change their minds." [Post Partisan/WP]

• Jonathan Chait insists that "[n]o speech is going to have much effect — it could make health care more popular, but centrist Senators were dragging their feet long before Obama's slide in public opinion. Fortunately, I also think that at the end of the day, even moderate Democrats will recognize their self-interest in passing something substantial." [Plank/New Republic]

• The New York Times editorial board was pleased that Obama "finally found his voice," but maintains that "Obama will need to do more than orate. He needs to twist arms among timid Democrats in Congress to get a strong bill passed, most likely with little support from Republicans." [NYT]

• The Wall Street Journal editorial board believes "Obama's speech was less about persuading the public than it was a political pep talk to this Beltway constituency. He hopes to buy enough political breathing space with a bump in the polls — however short-lived — to steel their nerves to power ObamaCare into law. The only way to stop it now is with a giant wave of popular opposition." [WSJ]

• Jonathan Capehart writes that Obama finally "took ownership." He was "feisty, direct and unwavering about the need to reform the health insurance system that has crushed too many Americans for too long." [Post Partisan/WP]