Two big political speeches were delivered last week, designed to set the tone for the nation and the state. Here's our assessment.
How successful was Pres. Obama in the delivery and substance of his State of the Union speech?
Pignanelli: "Liberty doesn't work as well in practice as it does in speeches." — Will Rogers. (Note to Congress: Please prevent further "cruel and unusual punishment" to television audiences by prohibiting more than 12 applause/standing ovations per hour for the State of Union address.) This was the most important oratory of President Barack Obama's career. He could have chosen the easy path of defending his legacy against the onslaught of the GOP House majority and solidified his left base. Instead, he chose the difficult route: Admitting voters wanted greater bipartisanship, committing to working with Congress to reform health care reform, and trimming the budget with big numbers. By sprinkling his talk with references to the global economy, he assured listeners that China faced stiff competition from us. In his impeccable delivery, he gave what Americans wanted: hope.
The more interesting story was the Republican response. The official GOP spokesperson was Congressman Paul Ryan — well known as a thoughtful, creative lawmaker who crafted a courageous proposal to reduce the budget deficit. Developing the Wisconsin lawmaker as the face of Republican anti-Obama was a shrewd move. Yet, Ryan is not conservative enough for tea party activists who hijacked the GOP response with their own version, delivered by Rep. Michele Bachmann. By refusing to support Ryan's comments, these right-wingers have established the fight in D.C. is Obama vs. the GOP, and the GOP vs. the GOP. This can only help the president in his re-election.
Webb: Obama is a fine speechmaker and deserves a solid B. He delivered some nice rhetorical flourishes and inspirational moments as he recounted courageous acts. He was suitably humble, having suffered an enormous electoral defeat in November. His oratory was a bit overblown in suggesting we face this generation's "Sputnik moment," but then failing to propose anything nearly as dramatic as a moon landing.
My biggest disappointment was that Obama seems not to grasp the seriousness of the mind-boggling deficit and its grave threat to our nation's future. The Obama/Ryan contrast was stark: Obama believes more government is the answer to every problem. Ryan believes government is the problem. As Ryan noted, we're hurtling toward a Greece-like meltdown and the mess we're leaving our children and grandchildren is appalling. Obama proposed baby steps to control spending while we need to take giant leaps. As Republicans have noted, the Obama plan to freeze spending at current levels is like saying you're going to control your vehicle speed by accelerating to 95 mph and then putting it on cruise control.
How successful was Gov. Gary Herbert in the delivery and substance of his State of the State speech?
Webb: Herbert gets an A- for being surprisingly passionate and forceful. There weren't many memorable lines or inspiring anecdotes, but it was a peppy, upbeat performance, noting the state is in good shape, built on a solid foundation. He didn't pick any fights with the Legislature on the budget or other issues, although he stood by his recommendation to fully fund public education student growth. He stayed safely neutral on immigration, calling for civility but not sticking his neck out in support of either guest worker or strict law enforcement proposals. Stronger gubernatorial leadership there would certainly be welcome.
Two newsworthy items: Herbert threw the door wide open for nuclear energy in Utah, singling it out for study and debate. He also announced consolidation of economic development organizations and entities in a new downtown World Trade Center building.
The biggest applause came with Herbert's call for greater "self-determination," a nicer way to package states' rights. He blasted the Interior Department's secret designation of wild lands and vowed to fight further federal encroachment. With a majority of the states now Republican-controlled, the states really need a coordinated effort seeking fundamental reform, rather than little forays here and there. An opportunity for some Herbert leadership?
Pignanelli: The buzz in the Capitol prior to the speech was that the governor would not dillydally in his comments, so he could get to the BYU basketball game in time. Thus, much like the governor, his speech was compact and efficient. He covered a lot of territory in record time (including outlining an energy policy, optimizing government, mentioning jobs a dozen times, and taking a big swipe at the federal government) — and still made the jump ball. The meatiest part of his presentation was enhancing public and higher education — activities he can actually impact.
Yet, the solid speeches this week were delivered by the Utah Democrats in their response. Although stiff in style, House Minority Leader David Litvack and Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero articulated a proactive, pragmatic agenda that is mirrored in actual legislation. They refrained from partisan sniping and offered Utahns a credible loyal opposition worthy of respect.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: email@example.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.