Here is a selection of reactions to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech to Congress on Tuesday night in Washington:
It was light on applause lines and suffused with a grim subtext: our competitors are gaining on us. Obama's task was to acknowledge the status anxiety sweeping across the U.S., identify the problems causing it, and map out a plan to solidify America's place in the world. ... The theme of the address was the way to "win the future," a slogan that sounds cooked up in a corporate boardroom. It may have been a nod to our hunger for digestible sound bites or a recognition that plenty of Obama's opponents remain unconvinced that he believes in American exceptionalism. But it was also a clear message that "the rules have changed," as Obama said. To the president, American exceptionalism is no longer a matter of Manifest Destiny, but a status secured with hard work, smart choices and grit.
The mingled seating of Democratic and Republican members of Congress, a symbolic show of a renewed commitment to bipartisanship, eliminated the tribal practice of one party sitting on its hands while the other stands and applauds, and it was an immense benefit to the president. The viewing television public saw a stream of cut-aways framing prominent Democrats and Republicans, side-by-side, clapping for the same words. The speech itself transcended party lines as well, including nearly 90% that could have been penned by a GOP leader - or by Bill Clinton, at his center-grabbing best. For the tens of millions of Americans who want Beltway residents to get along and get things done, it was the apex of bipartisan promise since the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
Last summer President Obama promised to call the bluff of anyone who talks a good game on reducing the national debt but doesn't act. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, he offered a few ideas, but didn't spell out a comprehensive plan. ... "(N)ow that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in," Obama said. "That is not sustainable." But until his 2012 budget proposal is released next month, and until negotiations over spending cuts begin, it won't be clear whether the president is really putting his arms around deficit reduction or merely air-kissing the idea.
(I)f President Obama hopes to "win the future" in 2012, his speech came up short Tuesday night. It was certainly a big and earnest move to the center, but it lacked the kind of specifics and innovative policies that the president needs to make America competitive in the 21st century. ... This speech will poll well - it has a lot of popular material and was very optimistic about America. But the failure to tackle the big problems and issues with specific creative ideas means the president and the White House have a lot of work to do. While these speeches are usually an end point to a furious policy making and agenda-setting effort inside the White House, this speech really marks a new beginning for Obama and his turn to the center. But making that turn real will require backing the rhetoric up with the changes and ideas that really put America back to work, bring our families together and keep us as the most innovative country on earth. He has had a great two months and now the chance to turn it into a great two years.
Not exactly a John F. Kennedy oratory moment. But wait, it gets even better as Barack Obama announces his intention to return us to the 1950s. As much as the Democrats caricature the Republicans as hell bent on driving us back to 1950s-style culture, Barack Obama is hell bent on driving us back to 1950s-style economics where people work for large corporations that subsist on government program subsidies and the employees all belong to unions. ... Barack Obama's speech was a terrible speech. The only saving grace for him is that it will not be remembered by the American public. Paul Ryan had much more substance and, surprisingly enough, Michele Bachmann had the best speech of the night with both style and substance.
President Obama's announcement on Tuesday that "this is our generation's Sputnik moment" came across as puzzling. Had al Qaeda sent a suicide bomber into space? But it turned out to be just a clumsy metaphor. The first Sputnik launch in October 1957 is a now distant event that no longer arouses passion. ... The sense of national purpose that followed the Sputnik launch was not based on an abstract sense of the need for better education programs; it was a national security emergency. In those days lagging behind in the technology race could literally be fatal. Mr. Obama has failed to conjure the same sense of looming disaster, excepting the national state of alarm over his irresponsible deficit spending.
From Barack Obama, we heard a reasonably eloquent case for center-left technocracy and industrial policy, punctuated by a few bipartisan flourishes, in which the entitlement issue felt like an afterthought: He took note of the problem, thanked his own fiscal commission for their work without endorsing any of their recommendations, made general, detail-free pledges to keep Medicare and Social Security solvent (but "without slashing benefits for future generations"), and then moved swiftly on to the case for tax reform. Tax reform is important, of course, and so are education and technological innovation and infrastructure and all the other issues that the president touched on in this speech. 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.