Three Speeches: Will they Matter?

President Obama’s speech tonight struck me as boring and pedestrian, the kind of State of the Union checklist that causes television sets to go off all across America. I thought the speech never developed any real momentum or consistency of theme. It didn’t pretend to grapple meaningfully with the fiscal issues that are paramount concerns for everyone. Half the time he sounded like a Republican; the other half he didn’t make any sense. Never did he acknowledge the extent of the fiscal crisis that his own policies have exacerbated, if not created.
That doesn’t mean that it won’t give Obama a bounce, however. Look what happened after Obama’s 2010 State of the Union:
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The biggest spike Obama has gotten in his administration so far was following his 2010 SOTU speech–which seems remarkable, since that speech was entirely forgettable. And the spike didn’t last long; after a day or two Obama was back where he started. The same likely will happen this year. No doubt we will see news stories over the next few days, breathlessly reporting Obama’s rising poll numbers. Then we will hear nothing as they almost immediately sink back.
On balance, I don’t think Obama gained anything from tonight’s speech. He has been rising in the polls for quite different reasons which I have written about elsewhere, but I don’t think that trend will get any long-term boost from his performance tonight.
How about Paul Ryan? His speech benefited from being shorter than Obama’s–he had less time to contradict himself. Ryan’s speech was unified in tone and it consisted almost entirely of things that people already believe. It is amazing how persuasive that makes a speech. Ryan’s delivery was OK, although he seemed to be taking someone’s advice to smile a little too literally.
It is a commonplace observation that giving the response to the SOTU is a thankless job, but no doubt there were some viewers who hadn’t seen Ryan before, or hadn’t seen an attractive Republican candidate lay out Republican values and policies on the economy so clearly. So, unlike Obama’s speech, I think it may have actually had an impact on a limited number of viewers.
Finally, Michele Bachmann. I missed all but the last moments of her speech on CNN and wasn’t able to get a good stream going on the internet, so I will have to catch hers in the morning.
UPDATE: Bachmann’s speech largely paralleled Ryan’s, perhaps in somewhat more hard-hitting terms. For example:

After the $700 billion bailout, the trillion-dollar stimulus, and the $410 billion spending bill with over 9,000 earmarks, many of you implored Washington to please stop spending money we don’t have.
But, instead of cutting, we saw an unprecedented explosion of government spending and debt, unlike anything we have seen in the history of our country.
Deficits were unacceptably high under President Bush, but they exploded under President Obama’s direction, growing the national debt by an astounding $3.1 trillion-dollars. …
For two years President Obama made promises just like the ones we heard him make tonight. Yet still we have high unemployment, devalued housing prices and the cost of gasoline is skyrocketing.

She delivered her speech better than either Obama and Ryan, and made effective use of a couple of charts and other graphics. I suspect that YouTube views of her speech will dwarf those of the others that were given last night.
Still, the most significant thing about Bachmann’s speech was that she gave it. The point, I think, was to emphasize the independence of the Tea Party movement. Even though what she said was nearly indistinguishable, in terms of content, from Ryan’s Republican response, the point can be considered made. The Tea Party movement, and ideology-driven leaders like Bachmann, will do their best to make sure that what we see in Washington over the next two years is not politics as usual. And that’s a good thing.

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