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Archive for the ‘State of the Union’ Category

Lee and CruzMy piece published in POLITICO yesterday considers the importance of the tea party’s choice of Utah Sen. Mike Lee to be their official respondent to the President’s State of the Union Address — while tonight’s speeches may or may not matter much to anyone outside the Beltway, and the same might be said for the various responses from his opponents,they are important symbols and indicators of how the political landscape is shifting. This year, I think the tea party choice was as much about style as substance (both matter) and particularly found it noteworthy that Ted Cruz was not chosen to give the response. Lee presents a rhetorical study in contrast.

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Dear Jon,

It is an important question to raise, and it’s a good thing you’re doing so: Whether we should blame rhetoric, in the abstract, or rather try to have a genuine debate about creation of a social/political culture created through discourse, in which people need to take responsibility for their words. The r-word can be tricky.

I applaud your analysis of the SOTU, especially about the Sputnik theme. I blogged on this yesterday, and no one in the MSM seemed to catch the Eisenhower strain to Obama’s speech — or his missed rhetorical opportunity to capitalize on it. Precisely as you said: “Once you say ‘This is our Sputnik moment,’ where are we going?”

If you frame the speech that way, where is the rest of the argument?

Obama says “Sputnik Moment,” and offers…lower mileage on our SUVs? Honestly, this is a page right out of The Onion’s Century book, in which on one of the pages from the 1980 presidential race a caricatured Jimmy Carter meets Ronald Reagan’s patriotic enthusiasm with…”Let’s Talk Better Mileage.”

The speech didn’t follow through on the Sputnik Moment opportunity, and I’m with you on that critique. And similarly, how someone writing on a whiteboard in the White House Communications Office thought “Winning the Future” was a great tagline. As a speechwriter, I had only one thought: I didn’t know we were going to lose the future. And if you’re going to face up to Boehner and McConnell in Congress, and the tea party, this seems a strange, not to mention politically weak, way to frame the argument.

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A different critique, from the Atomic age: It seemed clear tonight that at least one of the President’s speechwriters was trying to have him to channel Dwight Eisenhower, in his focus on education, efficiency, bipartisanship, competency, and global competition. The Sputnik references made it all rather obvious.

This was a speech about “The Education Race,” our generation’s Space Race, a challenge to get America’s science education back program on track and leading the world — however, it got lost in the rhetorical rubble of a poorly crafted address.

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