Wednesday, February 25, 2009

And you were expecting ...

What did you think of Obama’s speech? I thought it was good but not great. It didn’t hit rhetorical highs, and it had to navigate through the selective madness that is the government’s role in regulating the free market, 2009 edition. I believe the speech was intended to serve a particular purpose, and I believe it probably achieved that purpose (at least mostly achieved).

Obama is not trained as an economist, but there are a bunch of people at the White House who are. I suspect they told Obama about the importance of expectations in economics, how if people believe the economy is improving soon they should start spending now (to take advantage of those great bargains out there), and if enough people start spending it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy (the economy does improve because all that buying improves the unemployment picture). Obama’s intention was maybe a bit more subtle, something closer to what he achieved in the debates. Before the debates, people believed that McCain’s experience made him more qualified than Obama to be President. After the debates, I think a majority of Americans (who had watched the debates) thought McCain was a tried and yet angry old man, and that Obama was in command of the facts, calm, rational and reassuring. That is what Obama was trying to achieve last night, to remind Americans that no matter how childish or foolish Congressional Democrats (and Republicans) might seem when giving sound bites or droning on, on those Sunday morning chat-fests, it is the calm, smart and reassuring guy who is in charge.

Bobby Jindal’s Republican response should have been more compelling, it must have seemed that way on paper. It was pretty simple and clear. But his smile looked like a comedian parodying a politician, his half apology for the last eight years was not convincing and his prescription – put money in our hands with tax cuts, was the central prescription that didn’t work for the Bush administration. He kept saying Americans can do anything, in slightly different formats, but (I say) it probably doesn’t seem like that to the guy looking for work. As an introduction to a national audience, it was not a good moment for Jindal, let alone the Republicans as a whole.

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