Tuesday night, Barack Obama delivers his second-to-last State of the Union address, this time as a lame duck President with relatively low approval ratings and facing a Congress entirely controlled by the opposition party.
But if history is a guide, he can count on encouraging reviews from many in the establishment media. Back in 2009, when Obama was a popular new President, journalists enthused about his first speech before a joint session of Congress. “He wowed us,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews exulted. “He began on hope. He ended on hope,” a satisfied George Stephanopoulos declared on ABC.
Fast forward to last year, as Obama faced falling poll ratings and the embarrassing rollout of his signature ObamaCare program, he could still find supporters in the press. ABC’s Jim Avila called the President a “go-it-alone Terminator,” while NBC’s Brian Williams approving cited The New Yorker’s David Remnick, who wrote about the improbability of Obama’s rise to the presidency — “something I think everybody forgets in the day-to-day game here,” Williams lectured.
Here’s a review of how the media have covered each of President Obama’s State of the Union addresses, plus his 2009 budget address to Congress, which is usually the first such speech given by a newly-inaugurated Chief Executive:
“It was his debut and he wowed us. That’s the running headline from last night’s presidential address to Congress. Barack Obama gave a great speech filled with upbeat themes, common sense economics and a strong personal agenda on health, education and energy.”
— MSNBC’s Chris Matthews opening Hardball, February 25.
“[President Obama] came right out of the box and said, ‘make no mistake about it, we are going to recover.’...He began on hope. He ended on hope. Now, in between, there’s a lot of hard things to be done....But I think he made a start at inspiring hope out in the country.”
— ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America, February 25.
“It made me feel pretty good. I thought it was a great speech....You know, a friend of mine said, ‘Oh my God, we have a President again!’ Now, in some ways, that’s not fair to Bush, but that’s the way you felt. You felt this was a guy who was totally in charge.”
— NPR’s Nina Totenberg discussing President Obama’s address to Congress, February 27, 2009 Inside Washington.
“If presidential leadership were only about giving speeches, the jackhammers would already be at work on Mount Rushmore. I thought the guy dominated the room, used humor, occupied the middle ground....In many, many ways, this is one of the most conservative speeches that a Democratic president has given since, I think, the middle of Bill Clinton’s time.”
— Newsweek’s Howard Fineman on MSNBC after President Obama’s State of the Union address, January 27, 2010.
CBS’s Jeff Greenfield: “This was very much like he was in the campaign. He went five or ten minutes without a single applause line. He said ‘let me tell you how we got into this mess,’ he reached out and said to people ‘I’m not giving up my idea that we can change the tone of politics.’...”
Katie Couric: “Well, as [New York Times columnist] Tom Friedman said, ‘He’s better at making us smarter than making us angry.’”
— From CBS’s live coverage following the State of the Union, January 27, 2010.
“You know, I was trying to think about who he was tonight, and it’s interesting: He is post-racial by all appearances. You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”
— MSNBC’s Chris Matthews during live coverage following the State of the Union address, January 27, 2010.
“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....”
— ABC’s Christiane Amanpour during coverage of the State of the Union, January 25, 2011.
“I think he was trying to invoke the optimism, the can-do spirit that brings to mind Ronald Reagan in these settings.”
— Correspondent Andrea Mitchell during NBC News live coverage of the State of the Union, January 25, 2011.
Anchor Katie Couric: “In many ways, you felt this speech tonight was almost downright 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?”
CBS’s Jeff Greenfield: “I think there was certainly an effort on several grounds....He kept talking about winning the future and that was always a big theme about Reagan....He was clearly striking rhetorical notes that reminded me of Mr. Reagan.”
— CBS’s live coverage, January 25, 2011.
Anchor Brian Williams: “A rousing recitation, a reminder of why the nation is great from President Obama....Chuck Todd, anything wrong with reminding people that as a nation we’re best when we have each other’s backs and what is great about America?”
Correspondent Chuck Todd: “No....The presidential candidate that paints the most optimistic picture does usually end up winning election or re-election.”
Correspondent Andrea Mitchell: “This was resoundingly positive and optimistic in every way.”
— From NBC News live coverage following the State of the Union speech, January 24, 2012.
“His speech was equivalent to Ronald Reagan’s ‘Morning in America’ speech, which was a positive outlook on the world and I think that Republicans can embrace him because of Ronald Reagan. It is very similar to that. It’s positive, it’s optimistic. He actually believes that they’re gonna cooperate with him....From his mouth to God’s ears, they should start cooperating and get this country going and stop this gridlock because it’s not patriotic!”
— Co-host Joy Behar on ABC’s The View, January 25, 2012.
“This was a speech that had some music to it, as they used to say. He coined a few phrases in there, talked about the ‘unfinished task before us,’ sort of reminiscent of what Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address.”
— Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer during CBS’s post-State of the Union coverage, February 12, 2013.
“These weren’t Hail Mary passes. ‘Let’s at least have a vote on gun control.’ He’s, ‘let’s have a $9 minimum wage; let’s have real comprehensive immigration reform with some teeth in it.’ I mean, basically, he was moving the ball maybe one foot to the left of the midfield....There’s nothing lefty in here. What’s the left-wing part? Objectively, was there a left-wing piece to this speech last night? I mean, truly left? I didn’t see it.”
— Host Chris Matthews to NBC’s Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s Hardball, February 13, 2013.
“This was a stare-down, chest-pumping President, angry and resentful about a Congress determined to log-jam his ideas. This was President Obama, the go-it-alone Terminator, mindful he has only three years left.”
— ABC correspondent Jim Avila on Nightline, January 28, 2014, reporting on the State of the Union speech.
“With all the talk about the President entering this period where ‘lame duck’ has been tossed around, this period in his second term, it was David Remnick in The New Yorker magazine, a long, long article, a long, sustained-access interview with the President over many stops, who put a sentence in the middle of the article to reset everyone’s expectations and remind us what it took to get here. And I’m going to quote from it. ‘A President who after all,’ quote, ‘won two terms as only 17 of 44 presidents have, and did so as a black man with an African father and a peculiar name one consonant away from that of the world’s most notorious terrorist.’ Something I think everybody forgets in the day-to-day game here.”
— NBC’s Brian Williams during live coverage of the State of the Union, January 28, 2014.