Faculty weigh in on President’s State of the Union address

The nation was watching as President Obama delivered his first State of the Union address on Wednesday night. So were members of the Wake Forest faculty who later provided this analysis of the president’s speech.

Professor of Communication Allan Louden, an expert on political speeches, noted that the tone of the speech often sounded more Red than Blue with jobs and the means to create them at the core of a litany of proposals.

“Reminiscent of his joint-session speech on health care, President Obama recruited history and decency of the American people to frame an address squarely aimed at a bi-partisan appeal to revive the economy,” Louden said. “As ‘Definer-in-Chief,’ Obama moved to evoke a world in which Democrats and Republicans are in Washington to ‘lead’, not just campaign.”

David Coates, Worrell Professor of Anglo-American Studies in the Department of Political Science, also lauded the president’s commitment to job creation, but feared that his commitment to a freeze on non-discretionary federal spending from 2011 may yet come back to haunt him. “What happens if job creation is still too low by then, and another federal stimulus is required? We all mentioned George Herbert Bush and his ‘watch my lips’ moment. I hope this isn’t another.”

Like Louden, Coates noted a Republican tone to some of Obama’s comments. “His references to family belt tightening requiring government belt tightening were pure Reagan/Thatcher,” said Coates, author of “Answering Back: Liberal Responses to Conservative Arguments.”

Coates praised Obama’s handling of the health care issue in the speech. “His health care defense was brave. There was no verbal retreat,” he said. “He is a pleasure to listen to, and does an amazingly good job of staying close to reality. His lack of enthusiasm for bankers was particularly well done.”

Louden pointed out that like most presidents, Obama made his first State of the Union speech long and complex, addressing more issues that he’s likely to address in future speeches. However, State of the Union speeches are typically done by committee, he said, meaning that every government agency that wants their agenda advanced gets a mention.

“While the speech had heart, often laced with humor and acknowledgment of political realities, it is unlikely to have a politically useful afterlife,” Louden said. “Simply put, in a long tradition of State of the Union speeches, too much was addressed and the focus was diluted by the sheer volume. If this speech has legs by next week, I’d be surprised.”

Categories: Faculty, National