Maybe it was the mesmerizing hand movements, but President Bush’s Oval Office address last night elicited less partisan zeal in the blogosphere than usual. It seems that the speech, parts of which were far more moderate in tone than the president’s usual fare, chilled some of the Bush-bashing that inevitably follows in the wake of any presidential pronouncement.
Most surprising was Jonathan Chait at The Plank, who, after reiterating that he is not “a fan of President Bush” (as if we didn’t know), wrote that “a portion of his speech tonight genuinely moved me and made me think more highly of him.” Chait liked that Bush was able to address opponents of the war directly, asking them to “think of the stakes of defeat now that the war had happened and ask[ing] that they not give in to despair.” Chait wrote that he couldn’t “remember this president ever speaking to his political opponents except to mischaracterize their views and use them as a straw man.”
This sentiment was echoed over at In Search of Utopia, where the speech was given a grade of B (not bad for Bush, who once bragged that he was a C student at Yale), and inspired David A. to write, “I believe, unlike many of my brethren on the Left, that the elections were a major step in the right direction, and I am willing to give our troops on the ground and their commanders the time that they need to finish their mission.”
Solomonia captures the nuanced mood: “Bush has needed an address like this for a while now. I hope he makes a habit of it (but not too often).”
But Bush’s hypnotic hand gestures apparently didn’t have the same calming effect on at least a few online pundits.
Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner was gushing: “The president went over all the noise and talked honestly and directly to Americans at a time when they’re home to be listening and don’t have to rely on the snips and quips of the MSM to deliver his message. What he said tonight and how he said it was right-on. And … his hands! I think he broke all the campaign-school rules. But he meant every word on an issue of national and regional and global importance.”
In the other corner was the reliably liberal Matthew Yglesias, who thought the speech was, “of course, entirely absurd,” nothing more than an “object lesson in the rhetorical possibilities of the straw man and the false dilemma. As an effort to smear the opposition, it’s good work. As a serious argument, it’s patronizing and insulting.” He also had words for the MSM (perhaps the only thing in the world he and Lopez could ever agree on). NBC News, he writes, reported that “the White House apparently thinks that speech represented a serious effort to engage with opponents of the war and bring us around to the president’s view. I sincerely hope that whichever ‘senior aides’ said that to NBC [were] just lying for spin purposes, because if they think that’s what they’re actually doing then the people running the country are far more inept than I dared fear.”
Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.
Thank goodness for Lopez and Yglesias — trying to hold two slightly contradictory thoughts in our mind was just giving us a headache.