The Importance (Or Lack Thereof) of State of the Union Addresses

President Barack Obama gave a solid speech two nights ago, carefully explaining his policies and proposing new plans for helping the middle class.

The trouble is that nobody will remember it in a month.

Presidential speeches come in two types: those few that are enduring, and those many that do little more than fill a news cycle. The enduring ones have several things in common: they are generally made in a time of crisis, and they outline themes that constitute a hallmark of the presidency. For instance, in March 1947 President Harry Truman summarized the strategy of containment against the Soviet Union, which would guide U.S. policy for decades to come.

State of the Union addresses almost never fit either condition. One exception was in 2002, when President George W. Bush coined the term “Axis of Evil” – which for better or worse came to symbolize his administration’s policies. But other than that lone exception, not a single address (out of the hundreds given) has made any impression upon history.

Mr. Obama’s speech was not particularly memorable, either. It was not meant to be. The speech focused primarily on domestic issues like jobs and education; stuff like this a great speech does not make. There are probably at least five speeches the president has made which overshadow this one (funny how most of them were written by Obama himself). Indeed, I doubt that half the people at my college even knew that there was the State of the Union address yesterday.

Like last year’s address, this year’s will probably be quickly overshadowed by other news. Its likely that even the most politically passionate can’t recall a word of the 2009 quasi-State of the Union. And as for the 2008 address – most people probably don’t even remember Mr. Bush making it.

-- Inoljt,

Krauthammer Blasts Obama, Forgets His Place

It is quite understandable for Der Spiegel to have chosen Charles Krauthammer to put forth the conservative take on the Obama Administration thus far; with the recent departure of so many intellectuals from the Republican Party, the columnist's own articulateness relative to others who still speak for the movement has thereby increased.

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Rep. Grijalva Urges U.S. Pressure on Coup Regime in Honduras

It's been a month since Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a military coup. Negotiations on restoring democracy supported by the United States broke down when the coup regime refused to accept a compromise that would allow President Zelaya to return.

The Obama Administration still says it is working for President Zelaya's return, but so far it has not responded to the call from Hondurans for increased U.S. pressure on the coup regime.

Indeed, when President Zelaya tried to increase pressure on the coup regime by threatening to return to Honduras without an agreement, Secretary of State Clinton attacked President Zelaya as "reckless," instead of expressing any concern about repression by the coup regime against President Zelaya's supporters.

Now Rep. Raul Grijalva is leading a Congressional effort to urge the Obama Administration to increase U.S. pressure on the coup regime by canceling U.S. visas and freezing bank accounts of coup leaders.

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Obama and Clinton: Work it Out

Although it's impossible to write anything on this subject without re-igniting the bonfire of primary cliches, any democrat concerned with foreign policy must be attentive to the relationship between the President and Secretary of State.  And it appears to me that something is amiss, particularly from the Oval Office side of things.  I, like many who supported Obama over Clinton for President, voiced enthusiastic support for Clinton's appointment as Secretary of State, despite recognizing that Obama would be losing a key player in the Senate on domestic issues such as health care reform.  

Some of us thought the trade-off worth it due to her proximity to the Northern Ireland process that resulted in the Good Friday agreement.  A historical breakthrough that has proven a stable and productive framework, it represents a signal post-war foreign policy triumphs.  Some thought this would be particularly helpful, together with her established credibility with both Israeli and Palestinian constituencies, in moving things along here (I write from Jerusalem at the moment).  When Obama added George Mitchell to the team, things looked even stronger.  Personally, I thought HRC's appointment a fabulous idea because of her signature "Women's Rights are Human Rights" moment in Beijing.  Clinton as Secretary of State is in an unprecedented position to address the situation of women and girls around the world, an end in itself but also crucial for processes of liberalization and democratization we should be supporting.  

Yet as the health care debate is heating up, the trade-off is looking bad.  For unless HRC is fulfilling a quiet coordinated role on foreign policy, Obama seems to have relegated one of his most talented players to a bench role.  As in the general election campaign, with an ability she had already demonstrated in the Senate, HRC has been a "loyal soldier" and impeccable "team player." But maybe a little too much of one.

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Obama Sells out Palestinians ... Israelis!

For those who are snark insensitive, I assure you that the title is just that.  Mostly, I am interested in setting up an open thread for Obama's Cairo speech.  But i would like to frame it before presenting the body of his remarks on the I/P conflict.

Obama, as we know, is a highly skilled and strategic rhetorician.  Though we often use the term "rhetoric" in a pejorative sense, as something synonymous with sophistry, insincerity, manipulation, propaganda, deception, etc., it serves to remember that in antiquity, as well as medieval and renaissance Europe, study of the art of rhetoric functioned as the basis for education across the disciplines.  It is the art of argument and persuasion.  This means that a skilled rhetorician will always take pains to connect with their audience, to present themselves as a credible and benevolent speaker possessed of morals and intelligence, and also to frame their arguments in ways that will reach their audience effectively.  

So the questions I pose for interpreting Obama's remarks are threefold.  What can we learn from this speech about Obama's actual thinking on the conflict?  How effectively did he frame these remarks to elicit sympathy and cooperation and set himself up as the "honest broker" required for progress (unless you think a solution can be rammed down everyone's throats)?  What can we learn from the President about how we might more productively engage one another here in discussing this conflict?

Below is the relevant excerpt from the speech.  Let's keep it civil and try to learn something...

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