Saturday, February 28, 2009

Speech showdown indicative of long-term political outlook

(Originally published 2/28/09)

Tuesday night was billed as the battle of the big speeches. In one corner, President Obama, the reigning heavyweight champion of oratory, would deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress; in the other, the GOP tapped super middleweight and rising party star Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to skip a few divisions and give the Republican response.

Well, if we stick with the boxing analogy, this was Tyson-Saverese: It was over in a hurry.

The pundits spent Tuesday describing the near-impossible bar Obama had to clear -- he'd need tightrope-walking acrobatics to balance the stark reality of America's economy against the hope that swept him into the White House. Be real, they said, but not too gloomy; be optimistic, but not out of touch.

Obama answered the call with a typically superior speech that was more characteristic of his ability than the disappointing inaugural address he gave last month. For about an hour, he spoke about the economy, yes, but also about the rest of his ambitious agenda.

Throughout the 20-minute delay between the end of Obama's address and the beginning of Jindal's speech from the Governor's Mansion in Baton Rogue, pundits marveled at the former.

Jindal had been speaking about a minute when I realized that my face was contorted into an expression of confusion and bewilderment. The speech was so strange, its message so muddled and Jindal's delivery so amateurish, it was almost painful to watch.

In reality, Jindal was the one with the nearly unattainable bar. Opposition responses to presidential speeches are usually wonkish, their settings comparatively poor.

But in retrospect, Jindal's poor performance had more to do with the message than the messenger. Tuesday's mess notwithstanding, Jindal is an intelligent, articulate politician with a national future. But he had little raw material to work with. The GOP is still searching for its new center -- an authentic, credible message that can counter Obama's political agenda without alienating the swing voters who elected him.

The post-mortem on Obama's speech was all about the breadth of his agenda. Pundits wondered whether he would be able -- or whether it is even appropriate -- to tackle behemoths like health care and energy reform while trying to right America's foundering economy.

At the start of the 1995 movie, "The American President," President Andrew Shepherd and his staff discuss his 63 percent approval rating and whether to leverage that high public support to pursue a particularly controversial tenet of his crime bill (coincidentally, a handgun ban).

The president's domestic policy adviser encourages the president to go for it: "Let's take this 63 percent out for a spin and see what it can do," he says.

President Shepherd passed on the "spin." But in laying out his agenda Tuesday, President Obama left no doubt that he won't.

At least for the foreseeable future, the new president and the expanded Democratic majorities in Congress are going to have their way with domestic policy in this country.

Because, as they showed this week, Republicans are still down for the count.

1 comment:

Heli gunner Tom said...

I have studied 'writing' and journalism in college and on my own--self educated to a large degree, and people say that I am a good writer who knows how to articulate to the 'common, average man.' You first have to analyze or choose your audience and then adjust your method of speaking/ writing/ Blogging.
My email:

Tom S
Disabled Vietnam Veteran: 68-70.