Barack Obama has spoken in prime time before, but not in a State of the Union-esq setting in front of Congress. With the stimulus package still under immense scrutiny, and the economic news still unsettling, Obama's speech to Congress was under a big radar. Under just as much attention was the reaction speech on behalf of Republicans by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has become the leading voice against the stimulus. Obama's speech to Congress, and Jindal's response, both delivered what their base likely expected.
President Obama has had to stand up and applaud every few seconds in the last few State of the Union addresses by President Bush. Last night, Obama was on the other end of the endless Congressional applause, getting 61 brief standing ovations in his speech to Congress.
For weeks, Obama offered downbeat messages about the economy, betraying the "Yes we can" type of speeches that got him the Presidency. Last night, his speech to Congress returned Obama to his optimistic, campaign form. Urging that America would recover, while also urging that the recovery would take time, Obama blended his pre and post-campaign speech tones into one whole.
For all of the economic worry and the slowness of recovery, Obama has still largely remained above criticism thus far. The speech to Congress continued that trend, as between 68-80% were very positive on the speech in polls from CNN and CBS.
The harder sell had to come from Bobby Jindal, as he leads the Republican opposition against Obama and the stimulus. Chosen to give the opposition speech at the end of the night, Jindal had the difficult task of trying to promise to work with Obama, while opposing everything from massive government spending to tax hikes.
Naturally, while Obama received raves, Jindal was panned by the likes of Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and the Politico website. Kate Couric called the debate an example of the "ideological fault line" between Democrats and Republicans, which is likely reflected on the party-line reactions to both speeches. Obama shored up his base by going back to vast, idealistic promises for the future, despite warning of bleak times ahead. Jindal shored up his base by promoting traditional Republican policies as a way to counter the Democrat's proposals.
Since the stimulus has already been signed into law, the effects of it are going to take a long time to judge. Until then, there seems to be little to do but for the likes of Obama and Jindal to keep debating on it in respective speeches, unless any new economic ideas come along.