President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (AP)

From the Pundits: Obama's corporate pep talk

Met with high approval ratings, Obama's SOTU -- particularly the please-all tone -- left some commentators uneasy

Adam Clark Estes
January 26, 2011 6:27PM (UTC)

The takeaway quote from Obama's speech sounds like a slogan: "Win the future."

Apple's seminal "Think different" campaign -- which some say restored the company's reputation -- comes to mind, for some reason. But the association is apt according to the pundits' reaction to the speech. First of all, the American people really liked the speech. According to a CBS News poll the approval rating on Obama's second State of the Union clocked in at a cool 91%. (It's worth pointing out that only 500 people made up the group polled.) The reactions from analysts, journalists, and talking heads varied somewhat, however. Here's a sampling of the more insightful ones:


MSNBC's Rachel Maddow calls Obama's speech a "prayer to the free market" that sounded like "more of a CEO-style pep talk than a football rally style pep talk." Watch:

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Salon's Andrew Leonard identifies the (glaring) missing word in the speech:


The unemployment rate in the United States is 9.4 percent. But if you went to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night looking for a job, you came away empty. The president did not even mention the word "unemployment." The stock market "has come roaring back," he told America, and "corporate profits are up." But aside from one reference to "the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts of once busy Main Streets," Obama devoted precious little time to the current plight of Americans who might be facing foreclosure or the expiration of their unemployment benefits. Instead he told us that the "worst of the recession is over" and "that we had broken the back of the recession."

The New York Times Paul Krugman feels a bit "meh."

Considering the rumors a few weeks ago, which suggested a cave on Social Security, this wasn’t too bad. Obama said that we’re going to do something about Social Security, but unclear what. And in general he at least somewhat stood his ground against the right. In fact, the best thing about the speech was exactly what most of the commentariat is going to condemn: Obama did not surrender to the fiscal austerity now now now types.

Overall, however, I have no idea what the vision here was. We care about the future! But we don’t want to spend!


Slate's John Dickerson dwells more on the corporate-speak:

"Win the future." That was President Obama's slogan for his State of the Union address, in which he used the phrase (or a variant) 11 times. Not only is Obama courting American business, he's using tag lines from corporate marketing. But as the president spoke, the line sounded more like the title of a self-help seminar, with Obama in the role of Tony Robbins.

The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman calls the whole affair "Love Train in the House!"

The president almost made John Boehner cry by praising him as a working class hero. That was to be expected. But in his tour-de-force of good fellowship Tuesday night, Barack Obama went further.

For an hour or so, he shrewdly (and in his own interest) ended the anger of our politics, even though he had been a full-throated participant in some of its mayhem minutes in the last two years.

Instead, when he was done delivering his feel-good, oh-so-sensible and sotto voce State of the Union address, I expected the sound system in the House to begin blasting the O'Jays' classic--and to see the members dancing in a conga line in the aisles, Coors Light in hand.

The New Yorker's Steve Coll, briefly:

This really is a much more mainstream American speech than his last one, which was very New Deal-ish. He supposedly read Lou Cannon's Reagan biography over the holidays.

Think Progress's Matthew Yglesias points out another omission of a divisive topic:


I thought it was a good speech; an example of trying to govern from the White House…

The tragedy we can see unfolding, though, is the way the president shied away from even mentioning the idea that climate change is a problem. That reflects political reality, but it also reflects the greatest failure of Barack Obama’s term in office.

More reactions to come as they roll in. In the meantime, check out the New York Times' crazy real-time fact-checked fully interactive explosion of multimedia video coverage (complete with all kinds of things to click on!). Or you can watch the address and read the full text here on Salon.

Adam Clark Estes

Adam Clark Estes blogs the news for Salon. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @adamclarkestes

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