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Obama's Speech Leveraged His Strengths

(CBS, Washingtonpost.com)
Here's what Marc Ambinder, CBS News' chief political consultant, was struck by in President Obama's State of the Union address:

• Republicans who respond to the speech with too much snark will need to be careful. This speech leveraged Mr. Obama's strength -- his personal charm and integrity -- these are character traits Americans like about him even today -- to build a case for his policies, about which they are quite skeptical.

• More than the substance, which was predictable and mostly leaked out before: the tone. He delivered the speech with a lightness and a verve that reminded me of his campaign speeches. (It was very unusual to hear him effectively tout off-shore drilling! And Democrats were caught off guard by his call for more nuclear plants -- a scalable energy solution.)

• Also: at least three separate references to America's singular role in the world. Mr. Obama has been uncomfortable with calling America the greatest country in the world, but tonight, that idea animated his speech: because we are America, we can solve these problems. America has a role to play in history. ("I do not accept second-place for the United States of America.")

• On his appeal to the decency and common interests of the American people: This is not a radical or new strategy, and not a shift for Mr. Obama, who, at a gut level, strives for consensus over conflict. More on the tone: it was very conversational. It wasn't exceptionally well-written, which was a strength: it was more like a primer on politics for people who don't pay attention to it.

• If he had a goal beyond convincing the Americans that he suffers with them and sides with them, it was to convince them that his vision for governing isn't naive and that the Mr. Obama that so many people voted for -- a post-partisan leader -- could actually figure out how to dredge the swamp.

• I think this was a very important paragraph.

"So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it's an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let's show the American people that we can do it together. This week, I'll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans. And I would like to begin monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership. I know you can't wait."

More Coverage of Obama's State of the Union:

Obama Vows to Fight for Jobs
Full Text of Obama's Speech
Bob McDonnell: The Government Is "Trying to Do Too Much"
Poll: 83% of Viewers Approve of Obama's Plans
Obama Upbeat as He Seeks to Reset Presidency
Dem, GOP Leaders Spar Over Obama's Community Banks Plan
Obama Priorities Revealed in State of the Union Speech
Photos: The State of the Union
Full Video of Obama's State of the Union
Katie Couric's Webcast: Analysis and Interviews
Analysis: Bob Schieffer and Jeff Greenfield
Special Report: Obama's 2010 State of the Union


The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder is CBS News' chief political consultant. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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