Obama delivers SOTU
Obama delivers the State of the Union. Biden awaits another opportunity to stand up. Boehner scowls … continuously.

State of the Union — that's another matter

| Last night Obama gave the obligatory State of the Union address to Congress and the three people who tuned in and paid attention.

I have just one question: Where has this Obama been all these years?! Now's a fine time to discover his mojo!

Obama was in fine form, even to ad lib zingers, as when his statement that he was not running another campaign set of cheering and applause from the Republican side of the house. He quickly reminded them that he had won both of his campaigns. Take that!

I watched the speech on MSNBC. Their innovation this year was real-time tracking of audience agreement using something called Bing Pulse (CNN, I understand, used the same). The results were shown in two ways:

  1. An EKG-like tracing of fluctuating agreement by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents/Others
    tracing over time
  2. A bar chart summary for the ratings at any given point in time.
    bar chart for point in time

What I found most interesting about this is that for most of the speech, the Democrat and Republican lines were both remarkably high. It was the third line for "Ind" that diverged the most and was usually lower than the line for Republicans. This was such a pervasive pattern that I began to wonder if whoever programmed the charts got the Republican and Independent lines mixed up! (Note that the bar chart example above has the Republicans showing more disagreement and Independents, but this was not the usual pattern.)

There was a very telling moment during the speech, when Obama shifted to foreign affairs and the fight against terrorism.

First, we stand united with people around the world who have been targeted by terrorists -- from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris. (Applause.) We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we have done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies. (Applause.)

At the same time, we've learned some costly lessons over the last 13 years. Instead of Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan, we've trained their security forces, who have now taken the lead, and we've honored our troops' sacrifice by supporting that country's first democratic transition. Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we're partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.

In Iraq and Syria, American leadership -- including our military power -- is stopping ISIL's advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. (Applause.) We're also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.


When he reached the phrase "is stopping ISIL's advance" all three lines dropped to the bottom of the chart, into total disagreement area. Obviously nobody was buying that snake oil.

Now, the president was in a tight spot as far as commenting on the ISIL threat: On the one hand, if he discussed it at length, that would give ISIL the publicity it craves. On the other hand, devoting just two sentences to it gave the clear impression that he is either blowing smoke or uninformed.

After the State of the Union, the Republicans mustered five responses. MSNBC broadcast live only the "official" response by Joni Ernst (Senator, Iowa), she of castrating pigs fame.

Sen Joni Ernst (R-IA)
Joni Ernst delivers the "official" Republican response

The reactions to her speech were uniformly dismal, with almost no variation among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Obviously nobody was buying what she was selling either, for what she was selling was platitudes and the Keystone XL pipeline. One ought to feel some sympathy for her: she is the new kid on the block and was probably chosen because she checks on the Republican rebranding boxes (Woman). Then there is the inconvenient fact that giving the Republican response seems incompatible with presidential aspirations. Think Bobby Jindal (who most recently went to London and blathered on about "no-go" zones in London, leading the prime minister to call him an "idiot").

I do hope Hillary Clinton was paying close attention because, if she runs, she just had much of her agenda set by no-more-elections Obama.

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018



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