But getting back to those delightfully irritated conservative wordsmiths, Charles Krauthammer made his thoughts known on Fox very soon after the speech was delivered. From a Daily Caller report:
“I thought it was a disgrace,” he said. “I rarely heard a speech by a president so shallow, so hyper-partisan and so intellectually dishonest, outside the last couple of weeks of a presidential election where you are allowed to call your opponent anything short of a traitor. But, we’re a year-and-a-half away from Election Day and it was supposed to be a speech about policy. He didn’t even get to his own alternative until more than halfway through the speech. And when he did, he threw out numbers suspended in mid-air with nothing under them with all kinds of goals and guidelines and triggers that mean nothing. The speech was really about and entirely an attack on the [Rep. Paul] Ryan plan.”
The attacks on Ryan’s plan certainly upset the right, particularly suggestions that his plan would lead to a different kind of America than the one the president knew. “It’s hardly beyond criticism or debate,” said the Journal, “but the Ryan plan is neither Big Rock Candy Mountain nor some radical departure from American norms.” On Morning Joe today they similarly debated the politics of making the stinging criticisms with Ryan in the room. Wasn’t that a touch un-presidential? And just rude? But give Obama his props—he went the face-to-face route, which is more than can be said for some unpresidential presidential aspirants currently implying that Obama is literally un-American.
Still, there are those who feel attacking Ryan’s plan was not enough without proposing a fully formed alternative to it. In a particularly scathing assessment, The Atlantic’s Clive Crook called the speech “a waste of breath” that lacked any semblance of a concrete plan. He also touched on what he sees as an irony in Obama’s position on the Bush tax cuts: Obama railed against the tax cuts while only saying he would let them expire for the top bracket. “Even now, he is deploring the Bush tax cuts as the cause of all the country’s problems while actually proposing to leave most of them there,” Crook wrote.
All this attacking had a different effect on liberals. Pundits in the days leading up to the speech had suspected that cuts and concessions to the Republicans would be too much to swallow for the punditocracy’s left-leaners. But from Krugman to Klein, they seem relatively impressed with the president’s moxie.
Here’s Jonathan Bernstein of A Plain Blog About Politics:
Liberals have wanted a full-throated affirmation of why government is a good thing? Obama delivered, with perhaps his strongest case for a liberal vision of government that he’s given so far during his presidency.
Liberals wanted some strong pushback against the substance of Paul Ryan’s budget? That’s what Obama delivered, describing what will soon be the House GOP budget as a tradeoff between health care on the one hand (for seniors, the disabled, the poor) and tax cuts for the wealthy on the other.
Liberals like to think of themselves as the grown-ups of the budget debate? Obama gave both a budget history lesson and some facts about the composition of the budget that positioned himself—and liberals—as serious, compared to those who talk about waste, abuse, and foreign aid.
Finally, liberals are saying, the president has embraced liberalism. Krugman wrote in his movie review-like assessment: “I liked the way Obama made a case for government at the beginning. I liked the way he accused Republicans of pessimism, of abandoning a hopeful vision of America. Good that he went after the Ryan plan—and good that he went after the cruelty of that plan.”
Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic said, “The president can seem like a compulsive mediator But in the budget speech Obama drew a clear contrast between his vision of America and that of the Republicans. Even as Obama called for bipartisan cooperation and cited, as a model for budget balancing, the work of his bipartisan deficit commission, he described the proposal from House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan in stark, but accurate, terms.”
Cohn also points out something all of us who follow this stuff can too-often forget: very few people were watching yesterday or will read about the speech today. “Its significance lies primarily in how it frames the debate, and negotiations, going forward,” he writes.
For sheer color and audacity, the Journal’s editorial page will be fine viewing as that debate goes on.