Winning the Salmon

Immediately after the State of the Union address, NPR asked listeners to describe the President’s speech in three words, then made word clouds out of the responses.

The dominant word from the speech?  Salmon.

Even self-identified Democrats told NPR the fish was the biggest hook of the night – here’s their word cloud:

At first blush, it seems like President Obama lost his message. The President’s recommendations on economic, education, and energy policy took a backseat to a joke that, as my brother said, sounded like it was ripped off from a Kenny Bania routine.

In reality… That was gold, Jerry.  Gold!

The President’s job approval rating is creeping up, but Republicans are rebounding in the polls as well.  In other words, his return to good standing with the public probably has more to do with the fact that, since the election, there haven’t been television ads running non-stop blasting his economic and health policies.

That will, of course, change in the coming months, once the real legislative battles start, and once the Republican primary season starts in earnest negative messages about President Obama will blanket the news coverage.

For all the talk about Obama’s centrist political re-orientation, he has to be personally likable if he wants to win in 2012.  His charisma was a key factor in his ability to best John McCain in 2008, and the lack of charisma among the early Republican front runners will make this an advantage for him again next year.

Obama may not be able to get a majority of Americans to agree with him, but he can get them to like him.  A State of the Union speech most memorable for the yuks can only help that.  Viewers (and voters) can disagree about income tax policy or health care overhauls; a good sense of humor can cut across partisan lines.

Cross posted at Pundit League. Read it again!

Reacting to the Bachmann Reaction

Yesterday at PunditLeague, I argued that Michelle Bachmann’s “Tea Party Response” to the President’s State of Union address would not detract from Paul Ryan’s official Republican response.  In practice, Bachmann’s response was actually better than Ryan’s – not because of content (Ryan did as well as he could have done), but because of style.

Despite Bachmann’s shortcomings as a speaker, her speech varied from typical State of the Union responses by including charts and images as visual aids.  Ryan’s turn as a talking head was traditional, but less dynamic.  As Brit Hume observed on Fox News last night, replying to the grandeur of the President’s address is difficult; it means sitting in a room with no audience, no applause, and no chance to speak in booming tones in front of an austere chamber.  Bachmann did better in the empty room by simply filling it with something besides her.  Granted, the charts could have looked better and could have included better visual representations of the consequences of the Administration’s fiscal policies, but the still looked better than Ryan’s charts (which, again, didn’t exist).

Future responses to the State of the Union might consider a more carefully crafted presentation that the Max Headroom-style talking heads that have become typical.  The opposition’s annual reply is a rare chance to rebut the President before a national audience.  Bachmann may have rankled Republican leaders with her rogue response – but she might be on to something.

UPDATE: Something I missed entirely in Bachmann’s presentation was the fact that she was apparently staring into space.  I figured the video I saw (linked above, from PBS) simply had the camera positioned off to the side, and that Bachmann had another, main camera she was looking into.  Unless this was filmed in the Congresswoman’s basement, I assumed SOMEONE would have told her to look into the camera; I guess that’s what happens when I assume.