- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
For those of you who missed the president’s State of the Union message, let me sum it up for you: Our enemies in the Middle East are dead or on the run. Our new enemies are Wall Street, big oil, and Congressional obstructionism. We can be the America of 1945 again if we restore fairness to our society.
Ok, that’s a little cynical. But in short strokes, that’s it. We want to be good old America, the place where the little guy has a chance and no one wants to mess with Uncle Sam. Oh and we love the military. Oh and Osama bin Laden is still dead.
That said, it was a pretty good speech as these things go, had a few interesting ideas in it, a few sound if retread notions masquerading as interesting ideas, and it was well delivered.
Grading it, we’d have to conclude the following:
- Compared to the paintball game that the GOP primary debates have become, this was Churchillian in its oratory and Jeffersonian in its vision. If we were grading on the curve therefore, against the body politic as a whole intellectual wasteland that it is, the speech gets 10 out of 10, an A.
- Compared to the usual State of the Union address, speeches that drone on, offer little in the way of new ideas, sometimes stirred up by a line or a notion or a moving moment or a controversy, this was not bad. The speech was pretty good, the delivery was pretty good, the core idea of asserting that government has a role to play in supporting America’s recovery and ensuring our strength was sound, and there was a lovely moment of the president hugging Gabby Giffords that was the highlight of the evening. By this metric, the speech gets an 88, a solid B.
- Compared to the Obama addresses of the past, his campaign triumphs and the hopes many had for the president, this was still a bit of a let-down. The idea that it included a hard look at the root causes of the mortgage crisis four years after that crisis began sure felt like closing the barn door after the horse got out. It’s notable that the president began and ending with national security success stories as few would have predicted that three years ago. It’s good he took credit for his export successes, silly that he re-announced a trade enforcement operation that has been announced and formed periodically in the past, and kind of poignant that he adopted the "indispensable nation" language of the Clinton years. Indeed, as Obama speeches go, this was a pretty good homage to Clinton, or as they say in hip-hop, it include a lot of "sampling" of Bubba’s Greatest Hits. For reasons like this, you could easily give the speech a 75 or a C.
- In terms of what is going to actually happen based on this speech — even in terms of the perfectly good ideas it contained like more equitable taxation, government streamlining, focusing on harnessing American energy in a responsible, efficiency-focused way, making American more attractive to investors, focusing on creating jobs at home — we are, unfortunately, going to have to give it a D. Because this hopeless Congress, frozen in the dark amber of its own bile, will do precious little and no one expects any more, including the president which makes the whole thing a painful charade.
So, there you go. Pick the grade you like the most, ignore the others, and move on. Because these things matter little, except in political terms and even then not much because no one is going to remember January come November.
Having said all that, let me add one more thing. You may have heard that I am graduating from blogging to being the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. What this means among other things is that I will no longer be blogging daily. (Pause to allow you all to get a hanky and daub your eyes.) Instead, I’ll be writing a Monday web-column (like a blog, only crunchy) and a regular back-page column in FP, the magazine. Oh sure, I’ll also tweet…and I suppose when I can’t help myself I’ll throw in a blog every so often. So, I’ll still be around, still spouting off — but doing so slightly less frequently — allowing you all the more time to read better writers and me a little more time to think about what I write (which wouldn’t hurt.) Thanks for following the blog and please look out for the column, beginning week after next.