What People Didn’t Like About Obama’s State of the Union Address

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Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

The vast majority of the viewing public gave the State of the Union high marks — 91 percent approved of Obama's proposals in a CBS News poll, and 84 percent had a very positive or somewhat positive reaction to the speech, according to CNN. These polls will always be skewed because people who like Obama to begin with are more likely to watch the speech. In a better example of the speech's effectiveness, though, Obama's approval rating shot up 26 points among a focus group of 50 Denver swing voters, half of whom are registered Republicans. But there were flaws, of course, and who better to point them out than the critical punditocracy. Herewith, a compendium of gripes from the nation's leading political commentators.

Michael Tomasky, Guardian:

The odd thing about the speech was how dramatically non-confrontational it was ... Obama almost never used language designed to throw down a challenge to Republicans or raise the hairs on the back on their necks.

Joshua Green, Atlantic:

I thought too much of the speech came across as hucksterish and hokey, as though Obama were fresh from some all-day motivational conference by Tom Peters or some other catch-phrase spouting business guru type.

Charles Krauthammer, via Daily Caller:

"I was also struck by the line, ‘We do big things.' But what was so ironic about this speech and what was wrong with it was that the content of the speech entirely undermined that. He said ‘we do big things.’ And all he recommended, all in the laundry list, the first half of the speech was all the things that government was going to do was small ball. It was like late Clintonian minimalism about high-speed rail, more spending on roads and solar shingles. I mean look, that’s not the Apollo program.”

Matt Miller, PostPartisan/WP:

[H]is proposals don't come close to shaking up the status quo in ways that can make good on his vision.

Jackson Diehl, PostPartisan/WP:

President Obama's portrait of U.S. engagement in the world was thin -- and weak .... What of Middle East peace, a great focus of Obama's first two years? The president didn't mention it.

Clive Crook, Atlantic:

[T]his was not the speech of a president focused, as Mr Obama should be, on the country's fiscal condition. He expressed concern about it, but no great sense of urgency. The thrust of the speech, in fact, pushed the other way.

Daniel Drezner, Foreign Policy:

[T]he percentage of the speech devoted to microeconomic "competitiveness" issues vastly exceeds the amount devoted to long-term macroeconomic policy. If the federal government really wants to create a better climate for innovation, it needs to send a credible signal that steps are being taken to deal with long-term budgetary problems. That section of the speech was, er, less solid.

David Frum, Frum Forum:

The disingenuous suggestion that China’s growth is driven by superior Chinese education system. Don’t confuse Amy Chua’s kids with off-the-farm peasants in Chinese factories.

David Corn, Mother Jones:

He was aiming for that above-the-fray feel. This might resonate among independent voters, but there was not much to stir the base.

Jennifer Rubin, Right Turn/WP:

There is no new Obama, just a less snarly one. But it was also a flat and boring speech, too long by a third. Can you recall a single line? After the Giffords memorial service, this effort seemed like Obama had phoned it in.

Howard Kurtz, Daily Beast:

There was a bit too much emphasis on Google and Facebook and wireless and high-speed Internet and not enough on jobs

Rich Lowry, New York Post:

When he finally got to fiscal issues, Obama's optimism became laughable. He said we must avoid getting "buried under a mountain of debt," but his most concrete proposal was freezing domestic discretionary spending after its historic run-up of the last two years. He cited the work of his fiscal commission but without endorsing any of its specific cuts.

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones:

In the end, the only thing that surprised me was how uneventful it was. With only a very few exceptions that were passed over pretty quickly (healthcare reform is great, student loan reform is great), there was almost literally nothing in there that couldn't have been in a George W. Bush speech.

Yuval Levin, Corner/National Review:

It not only offered no concession to the strong public mood evident in the last election, it evinced no awareness—not even in passing, for rhetorical effect—of the economic facts and pressures underlying that mood and defining this time in our nation’s life.

Matthew Yglesias, Think Progress:

The tragedy we can see unfolding, though, is the way the president shied away from even mentioning the idea that climate change is a problem. That reflects political reality, but it also reflects the greatest failure of Barack Obama’s term in office.

Jay Nordliger, Corner/National Review:

This whining about other countries, and their success, is just bizarre — from a president of the United States. We should welcome and hail others’ successes. They will not hurt our own. It is all complementary (as a rule).

Ezra Klein, WP:

The question that gets asked of every investor is the same: "How much?" Investments, after all, primarily matter for how much capital they give their beneficiary access to. But "how much" was a question that President Obama studiously avoided answering in last night's State of the Union. And without knowing what Obama is actually asking from Congress, it's hard to know what his vision amounts to.

Michelle Malkin, New York Post:

"We're going to have to out-educate other countries," President Obama urged this week. How? By out-spending them, of course! It's the same old quack cure for America's fat and failing government-run schools monopoly.

Ross Douthat, New York Times:

But it was still striking that in an address organized around the theme of American competitiveness, which ran to almost 7,000 words and lasted for an hour, the president spent almost as much time talking about solar power as he did about the roots of the nation’s fiscal crisis.

Paul Krugman, New York Times:

Overall, however, I have no idea what the vision here was. We care about the future! But we don’t want to spend! Meh.

Mark McKinnon, Daily Beast:

[I]n the end, the speech was lacking in emotional connection, coherent architecture, and anything approaching bold ideas for addressing our fiscal crisis.