During coverage of President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, all three broadcast networks, CBS, NBC and ABC, managed to compare the tone of the speech to that of Ronald Reagan. Reporters and pundits uniformly praised the supposed optimism of Obama. [Audio available here]
On CBS, Evening News anchor Katie Couric touted how political analyst Jeff Greenfield thought it was "down right Reaganesque" and that "some" have argued "this could be his Reagan moment." Greenfield himself declared: "He kept talking about winning the future and that was always a big theme about Reagan....the constant reiteration of optimism....he was clearly striking rhetorical notes that reminded me of Mr. Reagan."
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Meanwhile, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams noted how "The President [is] very sensitive lately, highly bothered by any kind of defeatism...that's part of what he went after tonight." Correspondent Andrea Mitchell chimed in: "That's exactly what he was trying to get after and I think he was trying to invoke the optimism, the can-do spirit that brings to mind Ronald Reagan in these settings."
As Brent Baker earlier reported on NewsBusters, ABC This Week host Christiane Amanpour proclaimed that Obama's address was "full of sunny optimism, very Reaganesque, on and on about American exceptionalism in many, many instances and full of Kennedyesque encouragement to break a new frontier. That Sputnik moment was remarkable."
Later in the CBS coverage, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer reiterated the Reagan comparison: "[Obama's] Reagan moment was when he made that speech in Tucson. But I think he kind of built on that tonight. I thought this speech was something of an extension of that speech." Greenfield replied: "I think you're totally right."
It got to the point where even Couric wanted to move on to talk about the substance of the speech: "I don't mean to rain on your parade in terms of how eloquent this speech was, but really, realistically, [political analyst] John Dickerson, let me ask you, while these guys are kvelling over the President. I mean, how long will this last?"
[According to Merriam-Webster.com, 'kvelling' is a Yiddish term meaning: "to be extraordinarily proud." In fact, this is the example of the word's usage that is provided: "Proud grandparents who kvell over every thing that their precious little darlings do."]
Here is a partial transcript of the January 25 exchange on CBS:
KATIE COURIC: There was a lot of story-telling tonight, Jeff, and White House officials told me today that the President felt he's been sort of insulated and hasn't communicated enough stories with the American people. And in many ways, you felt this speech tonight was almost down right Reaganesque. There have been some comparisons made in recent days about how this could be his Reagan moment. Do you think it was in any way?
JEFF GREENFIELD: I think there was certainly an effort on several grounds. One, the story-telling was woven throughout the speech. Every political point or policy point he wanted to make was illustrated with that. Second, it was the future. He kept talking about winning the future and that was always a big theme about Reagan. It's not left/right, it's the past versus the future. And perhaps most of all, the constant reiteration of optimism. 'We do big things, there isn't a person here who would trade places with anyone else on Earth. I know we'll get there.' That's almost like Martin Luther King, 'I've been to the mountain top.' So in that sense he was clearly striking rhetorical notes that reminded me of Mr. Reagan.
COURIC: And John Dickerson, we can't have a big policy discussion, but he was pretty short on specifics, other than that five-year domestic spending freeze that will save $400 billion over ten years. He didn't talk that much, specifically, about short-term job creation or spending cuts did he, John?
JOHN DICKERSON: No. The spending cuts were played down. They're in there, but he needed just enough to be able to say he'd done something. But too much spending cuts gets in the way of this uplifting message he was trying to convey, this notion of telling America its story back to itself and so this – too much spending talk would have just obscured that larger message. And he's trying to associate himself with that feeling of uplift.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You were talking about a Reagan moment. I really think, Jeff, that his Reagan moment was when he made that speech in Tucson. But I think he kind of built on that tonight. I thought this speech was something of an extension of that speech.
GREENFIELD: I think you're totally right. In fact, one of the reasons why the applause was muted is when you're a speech writer you know how to write a speech that gets people on their feet and you also know how to write a speech that people have to listen to. There – this was an explainer speech, 'How did we get here? Why are we in this fix? How do we get out of it?' And there were long moments when I don't think the speech writers or the President – they weren't looking for applause. Certainly not the kind of cheerleading that we've seen.
SCHIEFFER: Can I just say, the one thing that I wonder about, I thought it was a wonderful line when he said it's our 'Sputnik moment,' but I wonder, Jeff and Katie, are there enough Americans alive who will remember? I do, of course, because I was alive when that happened.
GREENFIELD: 75% of Americans were not alive when Sputnik was launched. They might think it's a kind of Jewish soul food.
COURIC: And I want to mention it was launched the year I was born, 1957, and I'm proud to say that on national television. I don't mean to rain on your parade in terms of how eloquent this speech was, but really, realistically, John Dickerson, let me ask you, while these guys are kvelling over the President. I mean, how long will this last? Obviously we've got health care reform looming on the horizon, the Republicans are doing everything they can to dismantle it and there's certainly a lot of areas of disagreement. So do you see this lasting at all?
DICKERSON: Well, we still have that big philosophical disagreement at the center of our politics. It was interesting to see John Boehner clap when the President talked about 100,000 new teachers. Well, that's part of his investment that Republicans before the speech had said, you know, that investment is just spending, it's wasteful sort of old-style Democratic spending. So perhaps the President may have made a little inroads here in terms of some of the spending he wants, might get Republicans to sign on. But the philosophical disagreement is still there and Republicans believe spending has to be cut drastically to get government out of the way so private enterprise can do its thing and create jobs and growth. The President is saying we need some sparks, we need some incentives and nudges here to get private enterprise to create those jobs.
— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.