A few things stood out for me, mainly on the rhetorical side. One was the lengthy, somber beginning, in which he went on for several minutes without an applause line explaining the causes and persistence of our economic woes. Presidents are supposed to say that the state of the union is sound, even when it's not. I was bothered when Bush opened his 2002 address by saying "the state of our union has never been stronger," even while we were mired in recession and war and while crews were still picking pieces of two of the world's tallest buildings out of a hole in lower Manhattan. So I appreciated the departure from tradition here. It seemed appropriate and useful.
And the closing of the speech was incredibly strong. I liked this line:
Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.I've been annoyed when politicians -- Obama included -- describe partisanship as something akin to bad manners, as though there weren't sincere policy beliefs behind it. Tonight, Obama said that partisanship is something to be expected. It's supposed to be this way. He didn't quite say it, but it's a sign of a healthy democracy.