8 a.m. ET: In the hours leading up to President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress last night, most analysts agreed that he needed to serve the nation a heaping helping of hope after a bit too much "straight talk" in the first five weeks of his presidency. Well, hope is what we got, though leavened with a still-stark portrayal of the state of the economy.
Obama's thematic return to campaign form should not have been surprising. The iconic poster, after all, does not say "Dread" or "Fear." Obama spent the evening, as Janet Hook put it, figuring out "how to balance warnings of dire circumstances against the need to inspire confidence." Peter Baker observed that it's a good thing Obama didn't have to say "the state of the union is strong," because it isn't. And the Associated Press linked the speech to Franklin Roosevelt's first fireside chat 66 years ago, an address that also sought to reassure the nation during a banking crisis.
Hope isn't the only campaign relic that made a return last night; we've also got insta-polls! CNN's late-night survey found a whopping 92 percent of respondents reacted positively to the speech, though the network cautioned that the viewing audience skewed more Democratic than the general public because members of the party were especially eager to see the president they supported. And, as CNN's polling director pointed out, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush scored roughly as well in their first addresses to Congress. CBS News' instant survey was similarly positive, showing that approval of Obama's economic plans went up significantly during the speech.
The response to the official responder, Bobby Jindal, was, to put it charitably, less positive. It's never a good sign when much of the blogosphere spends the evening discussing your similarities to a super-goofy character on a sitcom. It's always hard to deliver a speech to a camera alone in a room after the president has spoken to a packed House chamber that frequently interrupts him with applause. Even so, Jindal's delivery was almost universally panned. And what about that backdrop, in front of a big spiral staircase? Yes, he's the governor, but now might not be the right time to give a speech that says, "I know times are tough. By the way, I live in a mansion."
In non-joint address news, the lead story is Obama's reportedly nearing a decision to order nearly all American troops out of Iraq by August 2010. The announcement is expected to come Friday in North Carolina, something Vice President Biden appeared to confirm this morning on "The Today Show," saying, "We're keeping a campaign commitment." Hilda Solis, meanwhile, is now officially the secretary of Labor, and Gary Locke will be Commerce secretary (assuming he pays his taxes). And Roland Burris isn't resigning. Yet.
Back to that theme of hope. Want to see a positive economic sign? Try looking at K Street, where, The Hill reports, "business seems to be booming." A new, activist administration plus the largest spending bill ever equals plenty of new contracts for the influence-peddling industry even though the major corporations that hire lobbyists and fund trade associations are tightening their belts in nearly every other way. The newspaper business, meanwhile, is still struggling. Did The Rundown pick the wrong profession? Discuss in the comments section below.
February 25, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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