OK, why was the SOU so flat?
Well, #1) the buddy system seating — Ds mixed with Rs — apparently kept the Ds from getting up a wave. They were too dispersed. So the applause was too. It often sounded as though only one or two would start, then look around, see no one with them, and stop in embarrassment. But besides staging, why?
#2) With the exception of medical liability reform, on specifics Mr. Obama seemed still to be using soft words to conceal unyielding positions, as in, let’s freeze the budget immediately after I spend another trillion on toys for prep school boys like clean energy and high speed rail and everything else I can think of. This bate and switch act is old.
How about Congressman Paul Ryan’s reply?
Ryan is a better man than his speech, which was wrong for the occasion. Compared to the epic poem that is the SOU itself, the reply is an op-ed: short, fast, to the point. So like an op-ed, the reply needs to focus in on one specific and build its point.
To my knowledge, only one reply has ever upstaged a presidential speech to a joint session of Congress, and that was Senator Robert Dole’s to Clinton on Hillarycare. And Dole did it with a graphic, a chart showing the bureaucracy the bill would build.
Here’s the upshot: Ryan tried too hard to tell us deep truths we already knew; the president did the opposite.