In progressive Seattle, the State of the Union address looked like a feint to the center. It was flimsy, poorly constructed, and it lacked any real comfort for the far liberal wing of the Democratic Party. (Although, as I said in the live-Slog, if Bill Clinton had given this speech full of talk of infrastructure and fostering scientific innovation and the end of DADT in 1996, it would have easily been the most progressive State of the Union in decades.) To the rest of the country, it looked like a very presidential speech. Obama positioned himself as the responsible dad of America (this first leg of his 2012 campaign, at least, is very heavy with "Our American Family" imagery). This SotU was lacking in specificity, and the language was ham-handed and full of oblique rah-rahisms. But America likes hammy language and rah-rah vibes from their presidents. Republicans couldn't argue the content of his speech without looking like total no-we-can't dicks.
So, no, as many of you were saying, it was nowhere near the best speech Obama has ever given. But as we learned in the 2008 campaign, one of Obama's finest abilities is his tendency to only expend exactly as much energy as he needs to expend in any political situation. Rather than pummeling John McCain in the debates, for instance, he simply ran out the clock by being reasonable, intelligent, and approachable. He realizes that not every speech needs to be a barn-burner. When he needs to pull out a home run, he always does. But when he needs to deliver his message to the center in a reasonable, inoffensive, positive way, he can do that, too.
I have very little to say about Paul Ryan's response: He didn't accidentally cuss on live television, he looked ill, and for the guy who's supposed to be the up-and-coming financial whiz kid of the Republican Party, he didn't give off a very confident air. And what is there to say about Michele Bachmann that hasn't been said before? Nobody knows where she was looking, her speech sounded crazy as fuck, and it thanks to her, it seems more likely than ever that the Republican Party is going to be facing a schism in 2012. The only question is whether that schism will be an all-out civil war that results in a third, teabaggy party or if it'll just wind up manifested as a platform that reads like it was written by a rabid raccoon. All in all, it was a very bad night for Republicans.