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Posted at 10:43 PM ET, 01/25/2011

First thoughts on President Obama's State of the Union Speech

By Chris Cillizza

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

President Obama's second State of the Union address is in the books. Let the analysis begin!

Our first -- but surely not last -- thoughts on the speech are below. What did you think? Make sure to take our user poll at the end of this post!

* America the Exceptional: While the buzzwords of Obama's speech were "win the future" -- he used the phrase AT LEAST six times -- the broader thematic seemed to be that America is a very special place with very special people who can and will solve any problem thrown at them. "I know there isn't a person here who would trade places with any other nation on earth," Obama said at one point in the speech to raucous applause in the chamber. His embrace of American ingenuity is an echo of one of Republicans' long standing talking points -- that no matter how bad things look at any given moment, America is a nation that always seems to figure things out. Obama co-opted that messaging tonight, calling on the public to draw on our collective exceptionalness -- is that a word? -- to catch up to the rest of the world on technology, education and a variety of other areas. It's likely a sign of things to come as Obama reemerges as a candidate heading into 2012.

* Do No Harm: Coming off a highly touted speech at the Tucson memorial service, President Obama took few risks in tonight's State of the Union speech. He spent considerable time on the need to super-charge our educational system -- a topic that could actually draw some bipartisan support in this Congress -- and on the need to focus high-speed rail and high-speed Internet access. When Obama did talk about more controversial issues, he did so either with a very light touch or with a lack of specifics. On health care, Obama used humor to deflect the deep partisan divide on the issue; "I've heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law," Obama joked. On curbing illegal immigration, Obama did little beyond expressing his support for tackling the issue and acknowledging that it will be "difficult and take time". The White House knows that Obama entered tonight's speech with genuine political momentum following last year's lame-duck Congressional session and the reaction to his handling of the Tucson tragedy. The speech then was geared to play it somewhat safe, offering up a popular message -- America needs to "win the future" -- and not engaging on some of the red-meat issues that dominated political discourse over the past two years.

* An Odd Crowd: Members from opposing parties sitting together definitely cut down on the wildly partisan feel -- and look -- that the State of the Union had taken on in recent years. But, it also led to a less lively live audience as members seem to be more restrained -- perhaps more self-conscious about leaping to their feet when their seat-mates stayed in their chairs. The same went for the reaction to Obama's jokes -- a tittering rather than the usual roar from like-minded partisans. (Notable exception: Obama's "smoked salmon" quip. But, who DOESN'T think salmon is/are funny?)

* A Split GOP: Even before President Obama took the podium, it was a good night for his party. Why? Because the coverage on all the cable channels leading up to the speech focused on the fact that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) AND Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) were both slated to give responses to the President's speech. The dueling speeches highlighted the ongoing divide between the establishment GOP and the tea party movement at a time when lots and lots of casual political watchers were tuned in. Republicans need to find a way to heal this rift or at least litigate it in a less public manner heading into 2012.

By Chris Cillizza  | January 25, 2011; 10:43 PM ET
Categories:  White House  
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Next: Beyond the State of the Union: What's next?

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