Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More reactions to Obama's SOTU

Here is the discussion of the SOTU by Sleepy Mark Shields and former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson just after the speech:

Short version, Gerson: He didn't snivel to the Republicans enough.

Short version, Sleepy Mark: I stayed up late for this?

By far the silliest piece I've seen is Howard Fineman's, Obama State Of The Union 2011: Love Train In The House! Huffington Post 01/25/2011. Why did the HuffPo hire that guy? Fineman apparently thought he was at a Grammy Awards ceremony. And if the evolution of the SOTU stays on its current path, we may be there within a couple of years. We could have a comedian introduce it, pop music bands (bland enough not to offend Republicans, of course, so they would have to probably be soft-rock Christian bands) and have a big red carpet arrival event beforehand.

Historian David Hollinger in Class act, missed opportunity Berkeley Blog 01/26/2011 praises the SOTU while putting it in the never-miss-an-opportunity-to-miss-an-opportunity category:

Classy, statesman-like speech ...

Yet he could have used the opportunity to call attention to the drastic gap that has developed since the Reagan era between the rich and the poor in this country. He passes up one opportunity after another to do this, apparently because he believes it would come across as "divisive" and will hurt what chances he has of achieving bi-partisan cooperation. This is a sufficiently huge feature of the nation today that it is a troubling weakness of Obama’s leadership that he has not found a way to focus more attention on it even as he presents himself as ready to "work with the Republicans" to solve the nation's problems. [my emphasis]
Still, he thinks Obama crafted his speech well for the political moment: "He delivered a speech carefully crafted to deal with his immediate, highly constrained circumstances. He plays the cards he is dealt, and he reads them well."

Jason Linkins was apparently trying to be cute in this article, State Of The Union Successfully Unites America Around Oily Fish Huffington Post 01/26/2011. But he hits on an important point without elaborating it. He relies on a quick-reaction report on the SOTU's public reception that indicated that this portion was the one that stuck in most people's minds:

We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV. There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there's my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked.
This is the kind of anecdote that populate Chamber of Commerce speeches and conservative chain e-mails, anecdotes that are catchy and difficult for most people to verify quickly.

That kind of anecdotes promotes the Republican Party's framing of gubment regulations of business as evil. They go together with bumper-sticker slogans like "The Solution Is Less Government". The Democratic President needs to be promoting Democratic framing of issues instead. Or maybe I should say, Democrats need the Democratic President needs to be promoting Democratic framing of issues.

Mr. Framing himself, George Lakoff, in a piece written before SOTU, talks about the current state of the Democrats' framing problem in The "new centrism" and its discontents Berekley Blog 01/25/2011. I don't entirely buy some of the specifics of Lakoff's approach. But he's certainly on the right track:

When a Democrat "moves to the center," he is adopting a conservative position — or the language of a conservative position. Even if only the language is adopted and not the policy, there is an important effect. Using conservative language activates the conservative view, not only of the given issue, but the conservative worldview in general, which in turn strengthens the conservative worldview in the brains of those listening. That leads to more people thinking conservative thoughts, and hence supporting conservative positions on issues and conservative candidates. Material policy matters. Language use, over and over, affects how citizens understand policy choices, which puts pressure on legislators and ultimately affects what policies are chosen. Language wars are policy wars. [my emphasis]
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