After the State of the Union: Who Can Defeat Obama?

January 25th, 2012

By Tom Carter

President Obama's State of the Union Address, 2011As I watched the President’s State of the Union address last night, this question was rattling around in my mind:  Who can defeat Obama?  Based on performance quality in delivering a prepared speech, the answer is that none of the current Republican contenders is up to the task.  That highlights a defining characteristic of the Obama presidency — rhetoric and visuals mostly unencumbered by substance.

I found myself completely wrapped up in the speech, only now and then flinching at a baseless claim.  I fleetingly noted that there was little mention of the Affordable Care Act — the hallmark of his presidency to date — or of anything else even slightly controversial for which he must accept blame instead of credit.  Of course, he did take credit for everything under the sun that’s been even remotely positive, even if he had little to do with it.  But that’s in the nature of State of the Union addresses.  They’re all mostly political speeches, even in non-election years.

Lucky for us, the campaign won’t be conducted as a series of telepromptered speeches, with the best performer winning.  The only direct confrontations between the candidates will be a few debates, maybe up to three for the presidential candidates and a couple for the vice-presidential candidates.  But these debates won’t resemble the Republican primary debates in the most important ways.  The rules will be decided by negotiations between the campaigns, and that will result in a pretty controlled process in which there’s a minimum of poo-poo chunking between the candidates.

These kinds of debates would be a significant problem for Newt Gingrich, if the Republicans are foolish enough to nominate him.  No highly partisan crowds to hoot and holler their approval of his often inane ideas, no standing ovations for his cheap-shot attacks on the moderators.  Mitt Romney would do significantly better with his cool bearing, command of facts, and extemporaneous speaking skill, as opposed to Obama’s frequently flustered performances in unscripted settings.

So who can defeat Barack Obama?  Santorum would have a better chance than Gingrich, but both would be likely to lose.  Romney is the most likely candidate to get it done, assuming that Gingrich’s scurrilous attacks from the left haven’t too severely damaged him.  One thing is for sure — if Romney is nominated, we haven’t heard the last of Gingrich’s charges against him.  They’ll be gleefully repeated by the Democrats throughout the general election.  For that, if nothing else, Gingrich should be forever discredited as a Republican.

*  *  *

Speaking of the State of the Union address, the Washington Post fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, did a pretty good job of deconstructing some of Obama’s claims:

A State of the Union address is often difficult to fact-check, no matter who is president. The speech is a product of many hands and is carefully vetted, so major errors of fact are so relatively rare that they sometimes can become big news (think of George W. Bush’s “sixteen little words” about Iraq seeking uranium in Niger). At the same time, State of the Union addresses are very political speeches, an argument for the president’s policies, so context (or the perspective of opponents) is often missing.

Here is a guide through some of President Obama’s more fact-challenged claims, in the order in which he made them.  [italics added]

President Bush's State of the Union Address, 2003While the column is very good, it’s hard to miss the irrelevant but obligatory negative media reference to George W. Bush.  I wouldn’t be surprised to read a weather report in one of these slowly dying media outlets that details a recent snowstorm, followed by the fact that there was also snow during the Bush Administration.

To fact-check the fact-checker just a bit, here’s what Bush actually said in his 2003 State of the Union address: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”  The statement was accurate, but calling it a lie has since become a permanent arrow in the media’s quiver.  Never mind that Bush accurately cited it as a British report, even though U.S. intelligence and many others believed it to be true.  Apparently Iraq never closed the deal, maybe … whatever … it wasn’t a lie and has no place in a media analysis of an unrelated speech nine years later.

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