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State of the Union: Analysis

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From the speech: The president talks about his administration's record on cutting taxes, taking $30 billion repaid by big financial firms and turning it over to community banks, breaking ground on a high-speed rail initiative, a spending freeze in 2011, and national security.

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Robert G. Kaiser
Washington Post Associate Editor
Wednesday, January 27, 2010; 10:00 PM

Washington Post Associate Editor Robert G. Kaiser was online Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 10 p.m. ET to discuss and analyze President Obama's State of the Union address.

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Robert G. Kaiser: Hello and welcome to our discussion of the State of the Union address. I can't remember one that was more important to the political fate of a president than this year's, and I'm eager to hear how you think President Obama did.

I thought this was an intriguing speech-too long, but well crafted, and containing really interesting and complicated political signals. Obama bragging about tax cuts that have been made in the last year; Obama calling for new nuclear power plans; Obama calling for a raft of new tax incentives, especially for business-this was no conventional liberal Democrat talking. At the same time he took some really tough shots at the GOP, particularly on the "lost decade" of the '00s, over which Republicans mostly presided.

And despite the urgings of many pundits, he did not back down on health care reform-and he accepted responsibility, or some of it, for the failure of reform efforts so far.

Let's hear from you...

Posted 10:21 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Arlington, Va.: Wow, do you remember a State of the Union address in recent history being this long? I think we've set a new record here!

Robert G. Kaiser: I'm trying to check. Bill the Loquacious went over an hour more than once, but I don't know if he went this long. If we get some numbers I will share them.

Posted 10:21 p.m., 1.27.2010

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Robert -- Thanks for taking questions tonight. What do you make of the president's scolding of both parties -- the Democrats for "running" and the Republicans for using the 60-vote supermajority rule to filibuster legislation? Maybe it was just me, but I thought I saw McConnell et al squirming just a little bit.

Robert G. Kaiser: Squirming I didn't see. But I do think Obama reminded Republicans and Democrats tonight why he came from nowhere, won the presidency, and has had the successes he has enjoyed. This is a very good politician.

Posted 10:22 p.m., 1.27.2010

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New York, NY: Will you have the complete transcript of the State of the Union Speech available online right after Obama finishes speaking on TV?

wsashingtonpost.com: Speech transcript: Obama delivers State of the Union address

Robert G. Kaiser: Rocci Fisch, my talented producer, has got it for you already, and here it is.

Posted 10:23 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Burlington, NJ: He really laid into Congress. I loved hearing that, since I loathe them for not getting the job done on health care, but do you think they're going to deeply resent his rather schoolmarmish scolding?

Robert G. Kaiser: Good question. Their problem is, I think they know in their hearts that he is right. The disconnect between Congress and the country is, in my view, a serious national problem, and Obama really stuck it to them tonight. I'll be intrigued to see what the repercussions are.

Posted 10:24 p.m., 1.27.2010

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South Bend, Ind.: God help me, he is a powerful speaker. Despite myself, I root for him. What an amazing speaker.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for posting. I'd love to hear the evaluations of others too.

Posted 10:25 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Upper NW Washington, D.C.: Who sat out the speech tonight? I know that Hillary is in London ... did she count as the official absent cabinet member?

Robert G. Kaiser: Shaun Donovan, Secretary of HUD, was the designated absentee. Not sure why they needed one with Hillary also absent.

Posted 10:25 p.m., 1.27.2010

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wsashingtonpost.com: Image: Obama address the House of Representatives

Posted 10:26 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Washington, D.C.: Wasn't that unusual for Obama to criticize the Supreme Court, and for the members of Congress to stand up and applaud him for doing so?

Robert G. Kaiser: This was extremely unusual--without precedent in the modern era (or my lifetime, about as long, alas). Justice Alito looked quite uncomfortable when he realized there was as standing ovation for Obama's criticism of the Court. I couldn't see Chief Justice Roberts' face at that moment. But I think this was a foretaste of things to come. The Roberts majority threw down a gauntlet last week with the Citizens United decision upending campaign finance laws and permitting unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns. The response tonight suggests that the court's bold challenge won't go unanswered.

Posted 10:27 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Not sure why they needed one with Hillary also absent. : You are not supposed to know where the designated guy is.

Robert G. Kaiser: ah, you must be right. thanks.

Posted 10:28 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Harrisonburg, Va.: SOS: He can give a good speech, but he is incongruent in his actions.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks.

Posted 10:28 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Denver, Colo.: I was moved by his honesty and I think that the Republicans were also moved, they applauded more with their democratic colleagues than remained silent. This is what I and many more people want....movement to allow and encourage change not obstructive politics.

Robert G. Kaiser: and thank you too.

Posted 10:28 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Chicago, Ill.: I definitely liked seeing him reprimand both sides of Congress for their tendency to legislate based on the fear of losing their jobs, and recalling history as a measure. I also appreciated that Obama himself acknowledged that some of things he's done are not politically popular, but are things he believes to be right and necessary. You don't hear that often.

Robert G. Kaiser: I agree. There were a number of humble touches tonight of a kind I don't remember in a state of the union speech.

Posted 10:29 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Dallas, Tex.: Yes, he laid into Congress, quite deservingly on both sides. But my question -- has a president ever called out the Supreme Court as he did in a SOTU before? That was a first for, I think ...

I also happen to think they deserved it. And Alito looked awfully defensive.

Robert G. Kaiser: See my answer above to a similar question. I agree with you.

Posted 10:30 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Greetings from Brooklyn. Did Democrats ever laugh at President George W. Bush during any of his State of the Union speeches?

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't remember it.

Posted 10:30 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Kearns, Utah: Skillfully and brilliantly crafted but extremely partisan and speaking for his position. It was not an American Speech for American. It was an American Speech for Democrats -- rallying them. Panned GOP big time an on TV.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the post. If you're still online, I'd like to hear more specifics.

Posted 10:32 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Princeton, N.J.: I supported Hillary mainly because of Obama's belief that he could persuade the Republicans to have some contact with reality. I am afraid that the painful lessons of the past year have been lost on him. The Republicans' "proposal" on health care is a good example.

Robert G. Kaiser: Is this an example of the American disease of short-term-itis? Do 12 months constitute enough time to draw big conclusions? I'm not certain, but I think so. We are now so used to instant judgments, instant verdicts, that they almost seem serious. But they aren't.

Posted 10:34 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Alito Mouthed "Not True" Like Wilson: Will the MSM be covering this breach of comity? How unjudicial (I'm an attorney).

Shame on Alito for that.

Robert G. Kaiser: Rocci Fisch saw that too, I missed it. It was a remarkable breach of propriety, in my view, and very surprising.

Posted 10:35 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Anonymous: I was glad to see the president's declaration that he would not give up on health care, but I actually think he could've been even more forceful and passionate about it. I'm surprised he didn't mention Ted Kennedy.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks.

Posted 10:35 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Thanks so much to you, and the WaPo, for hosting online chats -- I for one, think they are invaluable and only serve to enhance the importance of newspapers. As for tonight, I think the president, for the most part, went where he needed to go. Two criticisms, one minor. I thought there was a bit too much joking -- kind of reinforced the perception that D.C. pols are in a bubble, but I think I understand why he went there at times. And when he chastised the GOP about the Deficit Reduction Committee vote I felt he should have pointed out, for all us voters to see, that six of the GOP members who voted against it were co-sponsors. But overall, I thought it was a great speech -- the man can inspire.

Robert G. Kaiser: thank you for this.

Posted 10:36 p.m., 1.27.2010

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wsashingtonpost.com: Live stream Republican Response to State of the Union

Posted 10:37 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Charlottesville, Va.: Do you think the president and or his staff read and considered your colleague Steven Pearlstein's column today?

wsashingtonpost.com: The State of the Union speech Obama would give in a more honest world (Post, Jan. 27)

Robert G. Kaiser: That was a remarkably good column I thought, and I thank you for mentioning it, and thank Rocci for making it easily available to everyone. Read it!

Sure they read the column in the White House. But they didn't deliver the speech Steve proposed.

Posted 10:37 p.m., 1.27.2010

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State College, Pa.: Hi there, followed you after all the election debates, and it's great to get to do this again with you! What gets me madder than heck is that Obama was right to call out Congress on what they aren't doing, especially Repubs who vote no to everything just to oppose Dems/him. But do I think the Repubs are going to change, just because of this? You could almost hear them just totally ignoring this. WHEN is Congress going to get the idea they are supposed to work together for the good of the American people, not just their own interests?!

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks. I have to say I don't think you can absolve Democrats on this point. The partisanship, particularly in the House now, is really sharp on both sides. And ugly.

I wrote a book (the paperback comes out next week!) on the deterioration of the political culture in Washington. (Its name, you ask? SO DAMN MUCH MONEY.) It has taken three decades to descend into the toilet; it won't be yanked out overnight.

Posted 10:41 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Ellicott City, Md.: I thought it was a fine speech. I am a supporter who was getting a little disheartened recently. But now I feel reassured. He understands politics and policy.

Now I'm listening to Gov. McDonnell telling us "we want results, not rhetoric" and I feel more reassured that Obama is in charge.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks. The contrast between the two rhetoriticians is quite dramatic. The Governor is a neophyte. But he ran a great campaign.

Posted 10:42 p.m., 1.27.2010

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wsashingtonpost.com: 'So Damn Much Money': The Influence Of Lobbyists (NPR)

Posted 10:46 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Washington, D.C.: Did you get any numbers on the comparative length of the speech?

Robert G. Kaiser: Our wonderful researchers, Madonna Lebling and Alice Crites, got the goods on a website maintained by the U of California at Santa Barbara. It says:

Clinton had three longer than tonight.

Jan 1995 - 85 minutes

Jan 1998 - 77 minutes

Jan 2000 - 89 minutes

LBJ gave a 71-minute speech in 1967, which is exactly what Obama did tonight.

Posted 10:46 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Mt. Laurel, N.J.: Thinking about Congress, I'd like to scream at them. Our kids are willing to give their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and these clowns won't risk their jobs. Could they possibly remember why they wanted to get into the legislature? And act on that memory? They deserve the spanking Obama gave them!!

Robert G. Kaiser: Thank you. But what do you really think? Just kidding.

Posted 10:47 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Reston, Va.: Those small jokes the president inserted seemed to charm even the Republicans. It was nice to hear a little humor and seemed to show that he doesn't take all their attacks to heart (even if they do!)

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for posting

Posted 10:48 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Takoma Park, Md.: Video of Alito's Wilson moment:Video: Alito mouths "not true" as Obama criticizes Sup Ct for opening floodgates to special interests (YouTube)

Robert G. Kaiser: what a world! Many thanks.

Posted 10:48 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Naples, Fla.: I voted for the man but do you think the president is losing credibility by always bringing up the past and blaming Bush and the Republicans?

Robert G. Kaiser: I suppose "losing credibility" is in the eye of the beholder. Do you not think Bush was responsible for much of the trouble Obama now faces?

Posted 10:49 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Oakland, Calif.: Is it usual for the Joint Chiefs not to applaud? Asking in reference to Don't Ask, Don't Tell statement from Obama.

Robert G. Kaiser: I think it's usual for them NOT to applaud. They're soldiers after all, not politicians. We hope.

Posted 10:51 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Waterford, Conn.: The Senate and House lack honor and therefore trust. IMHO, that's because they now tend to be professional politicians who's main goal is to pursue their chosen career. Not sure how this might be changed. Really surprised at the chiding tone but good for Obama. Disappointed that Bobby Jindal didn't do the response again. Missed the comedy of it.

Robert G. Kaiser: What is this hangup in America about "professional politicians"? Do you really think we'd be better off in the hands of amateur politicians? Politics is an art form in my opinion. The really good ones -- Lincoln, Roosevelt -- saved the country.

Posted 10:52 p.m., 1.27.2010

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New York, N.Y.: Was very happy to see him speak the thoughts of what felt like the majority of Americans... People are angry, people are disillusioned at the shenanigans and the stupid poll-points politicking... I particularly enjoyed hearing him say that he hated the Bank Rescue package. I don't recall hearing a president say "hate" in a State of the Union. I do wish though that he had excoriated Big Insurance. Yes he said it's bad that premiums make it such that people are one illness away from being bankrupt, but he didn't really put it to the big insurance companies and he should have.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for posting.

Posted 10:53 p.m., 1.27.2010

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It took Congress a year: to do health care and the stimulus. What realistically can be accomplished with the legislative bodies in such disarray during an election year? We'll be lucky to get an energy bill done, much less jobs, education reform, finishing health care, tax credits, financial regulation...among the other things he suggested we needed imminently.

Robert G. Kaiser: Actually your facts are wrong. It took a few weeks to do stimulus, and the completion date for health care is nowhere in sight. But your general point is certainly correct.

Posted 10:54 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Cincinnati, Ohio: I love the guy but you I gotta call pandering when I see it. Before Massachusetts upset and the recent rational tone from tea-partiers, etc., he didn't give a hoot about the deficit. I AM skeptical AND I fear he just doesn't have the chutzpah to go toe to toe with the party of no.

Robert G. Kaiser: I'm sorry to be blunt but you are wrong. Obama has been worrying, privately and publicly, about the deficit for months. This was not a new development.

Posted 10:55 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Fairfax, Va.: Maybe it is just me but I did not think Obama did a lot of blaming Bush. I heard him say that this is where we were and this is what "I" did. I, too, would only want to take responsibility for what occurs on my watch. Why do people take negatively? Is it because of party affiliation or something else?

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks.

Posted 10:55 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Las Cruces, N.M.: Mr. Kaiser, you seem to be leaning towards Obama in your bias. Is that fair?

Robert G. Kaiser: Not sure what it means to lean "in your bias," and I'm sorry you think I'm here to express a bias. I am not. My job is to use four decades of experience any whatever wits I can muster to evaluate the speech, which is what I have tried to do.

Posted 10:56 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Naples, Fla.: Do you think VP Biden looked a little bit too happy up there? I have watched the SOTU speech for the last 30 some years and I don't recall a VP acting the same way.

Robert G. Kaiser: I sure did. Way too many grins.

Posted 10:57 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Nashville, Tenn.: Do you think Obama will be able to follow through on his promises about Student Loan Debt?

Robert G. Kaiser: I wouldn't rule it out, in part because it will be so popular.

Posted 10:57 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Melbourne Victoria Australia: Watched with great interest on C-SPAN. A humble, unifying and in many ways inspiring speech. Not hard to understand why Obama is so admired in many countries around the world.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks.

Posted 10:57 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Robert G. Kaiser: I'm listening to Stan Greenberg, one of my favorite pollsters, and an honest pollster though also an unabashed partisan Democrat. He ran focus groups in Nevada tonight to measure the reactions of independent voters --half McCain supporters, half Obama voters -- and the results were striking. These voters reacted extremely positively to the speech, and the participants overall assessments of Obama went way up. This is NOT a scientific poll, but I have found Stan's focus groups very informative over the years.

Posted 11:00 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Richmond, Va.: Thank you for doing this again, I always get a lot out of it.

Robert G. Kaiser: So do I. Thanks for posting.

Posted 11:00 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Re: Obama deficit: I google Obama Deficit. Sorry, few hits before this week. He has not been publicly concerned about it, and if he is doing it privately, it seems odd you would know.

Robert G. Kaiser: I'm sorry I don't have time to look up the stories, but Google is alas not the last word. Obama, Orszag, Geithner and others have talked enough about the need to confront deficits to make some Democrats on the Hill nervous that they actually intended to do something about it.

Posted 11:01 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Edina, Minn.: Mr Kaiser,

Would you please share with us who you voted for last year? Have you ever voted for a Republican president in your life? If yes, who?

I think it would be helpful to share this information since you are the moderator of this forum.

Thank you!

Robert G. Kaiser: I've done this many times before, but I will do it one more time. Edina obviously believes that the idea of an independent analyst is an oxymoron. I hope and believe it is entirely possible. I bet a nickel that Edina is quite a partisan him/her self. Such people can't believe that there are other citizens for whom partisanship is not a governing emotion. No, I am not going to reveal how I voted, but I am going to insist that my vote does not determine my commentary.

Posted 11:04 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Henderson, Nev.: There is little doubt that he is an extremely well-spoken leader and is capable of selling an encouraging speech to a nation that is teetering on the hope that we are truly on the road to recovery, but the question must be asked is this just another "smooth talking salesman"? While I can appreciate the idea that giving money yet again to the banks, in an effort to stimulate small business lending and growth, thus creating jobs, I must ask how easy will it truly be for the struggling small business industry to get these loans? I simply don't believe that giving money to the banks for this purpose is going to do anything other than fatten the pockets of "our so called struggling" banks. Common sense was requested; yet using common sense, I must ask I am I the only one that doesn't see this working?

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for a thoughtful comment.

Posted 11:05 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Houston, Tex.: While Justice Alito was rude, he was technically correct in saying "you're wrong." The Supreme Court decision stated that it didn't apply to foreign corporations. Plus, while I'm a bit fuzzy on the exact particulars, I believe there is a 1994 (? I think) Act which also prevents foreign corporate agents/entities from engaging in political commercials. I suppose the real issue would be American companies with a heavy or majority foreign ownership.

As a formerly fervent supporter and admirer of Pres. Obama, I retained my new-found skepticism during the SOTU. He's a brilliant speaker, but I don't trust the system or the vested special interests in acting for the greater good. I particularly don't believe the GOP will ever change. And I certainly don't believe they'll ever let Obama do the things which made me vote for him or believe in him. Frankly, I'm despairing, frustrated and angry.

Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for the post.

Posted 11:06 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Arlington, Va.: Don't people ALWAYS react positively in the aftermath of the SOTU? Wouldn't a better test be their opinion of the president a week from now?

Robert G. Kaiser: No, not always. But of course you're right; the speech is only important if it has a lasting impact, and if it really sets a new course for Obama.

Posted 11:07 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Coattails?: How much do you think this speech will help Democrats running for reelection to the House and Senate who are in trouble, e.g., Harry Reid?

Robert G. Kaiser: By next November this speech will be forgotten, mostly.

Posted 11:07 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Fairfax, Va.: What are your poll results of how people felt about tonight's speech?

Robert G. Kaiser: I'll give you the answer, on the condition that you don't take it seriously. This isn't a "poll" at all--a real poll is based on a scientifically selected cross-section of the population. Our question was just hanging out there for anyone to answer who wanted to. We have no way of preventing multiple answers from the same person.

So: 61% gave the speech an overall positive assessment. 18% gave a mixed verdict, 16% a negative one. Eight percent were "indifferent." I love the idea of people interested enough to register their indifference. Only in America.

Posted 11:11 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Wilmington, Del.: Obama was right to shame Congress. Why not those in Congress who want to go to work, begin by forming Team America? Why not the press call out the win/lose behavior? Shame on all of us for voting for fighting dogs when Congress needs more.

Robert G. Kaiser: Interesting idea. In my experience, the peer pressure to conform among Republicans and Democrats in Congress is quite fierce, alas.

Posted 11:12 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Focus Groups: Mr. Kaiser,

So it looks like good news about the speech. But I seem to recall that was the case after his health-care speech too. Positive numbers, a bit of a bump up, but still no ability to get it done. I am a supporter, and am glad to know the speech is being well received, but I truly hope he begins to act. I say this knowing he has accomplished things already, things that affected me my loved ones. But DADT and health care reform both need his attention to get done.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks. You know, we live in a democratic republic. We have a Congress with enormous power. The president cannot simply "get it done," as Obama has learned this year. He might have been a more effective advocate himself, of course, but was the quality of his advocacy determinative? I doubt it myself.

Posted 11:14 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Morristown, Tenn.: Mr. Kaiser I left the television to come and read rather than watch analysis of Obama's speech. The pundits there are all feeling heady about what they have to say about the speech. At least we can get a sense of fairness in your analysis which I appreciate.

Jim Lehrer is coming to mind one other person who can be neutral in his assessments of these venues. Of course there are many others but Jim comes to mind just now.

Thank you for taking your time tonight to do this. We are all tired.

Robert G. Kaiser: Me too! But I appreciate your nice words.

Posted 11:15 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Too Long?: When you say the speech was "too long, but well-crafted and containing really interesting and complicated political signals," how long should it take to communicate with a speech that is well- crafted and contains really interesting and complicated political signals? 20 or 30 minutes? Did you say that because you have a time limit for this chat or do you have a specific number of minutes you feel it should take?

Robert G. Kaiser: Good for my (inadequate) humility to end with this one. I probably did allow the fact that we hoped to begin the chat at 10 p.m. color my evaluation, and if I did, that was dumb. I wrote those words after reading the text, before hearing the speech delivered, and I think I have to confess that it felt less long as delivered than it did as read. So I promise next time not to be so speedy in such a judgment.

And I thank all who have posted tonight for their interest. See you here again soon I hope.

Posted 11:17 p.m., 1.27.2010

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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