Today's Blogs

Boilerplate of the Union

Bloggers are pretty underwhelmed, if volubly so, with the president’s State of the Union speech. They’re also chattering about Garrison Keillor’s hatchet job on Bernard Henri-Levy’s American Vertigo in the New York Times Book Review.

Boilerplate of the union: The blogosphere abounds with reflections on the president’s annual address to Congress and the nation. Conservatives either make the sound of one hand clapping, or offer some line-item vetoes of their own on noteworthy State of the Union talking points, while liberals are about as pleased as they are surprised.

To begin with the big guns, self-critical conservative Andrew Sullivan writes, “The speech’s key attention-grabber was the ‘addicted to oil’ line. But after five years of being the oil-president, he needs to add a lot more substance to back up the counter-intuitive headline. … Bottom line: this speech will rise without trace. And be remembered by almost no one.” Even a less deviating Republican like John J. Miller barely stifles a yawn at the National Review Online’s The Corner: “A so-so speech. The foreign-policy section was better than the domestic section. Bonus points for keeping the delivery to 51 minutes. I like it when presidents stick to schedules and have early bedtimes.”

Libertarian Glenn Reynolds, aka InstaPundit, is just a touch more enthusiastic: “[T]he delivery was, for Bush, good, and the substance was mostly good, too, though the cloning-ban stuff didn’t thrill me. The Presidential Commission on entitlement reform was also very lame, though realistically it’s probably all he can do.”

The president isn’t the only one receiving blowback for delivering verbal Ambien. Nick Gillespie at Reason’s Hit and Run titles his post “America Can Do Better” and lays in, “That is my memory of Gov. Tim Kaine’s closing line. Which is right up there with ‘Beef, it’s what for dinner’ and ‘Knowledge is good’ in terms of really rousing a crowd.”

At TJ’s InSights, T.J. Walker, a speech coach and the president of Media Training Worldwide, analyzes the evolution of Bush’s discourse: “Whether you love or loath George W. Bush, you can not deny that he has learned how to read a teleprompter. His smirks are gone. The squinting has disappeared. The nervous rushing trough a speech is a distant memory. Tics are non-existent … [B]ush was devoid of Bushisims.”

Liberal Kevin Drum, the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal, live-blogged the speech and homed in more on its content: “And what happened to healthcare? That was supposed to be a big focus of the speech, but he barely mentioned it. Nothing about tax reform, either. If he’s serious about the clean energy stuff and the basic physical research, that’s good news, but I’ll bet he isn’t. I’ll wait to see the actual numbers on all that stuff.” Meanwhile, “The Unchosen One” at Bostonian lefty blog Ars Politica sees a major lacuna in the president’s hinted-at initiatives: “Bush said he’s going to ‘reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities.’ This is Republican Economics. You underfund programs until they do not perform and then use the excuse that they are not performing to cut them. Specifically I would like to know what the 140 programs are. We know Medicare, Medicaid and No Child Left Behind aren’t fulfilling their goals, will they be cut?”

Finally, the new Wonkette boys David Lat and Alex Pareene are curious about the attendance of four Supreme Court justices, not to mention their broadcasting of approbation at various points during a consistently House-dividing speech: “But it’s not just about the clapping and the standing; the justices also need to monitor their facial expressions. A reader asked us: ‘Did you notice Clarence Thomas wince when Bush mentioned wiretapping (9:35ish)? And Roberts smile? In the same shot.’ “

Read more about the SOTU. In Slate, John Dickerson found the speech  more partisan than he expected, and Has-Been Bruce Reed suggested the speech was a kickoff to midterm exams.

Prairie home pugnacity: This past weekend, lefty NPR chat-show host Garrison Keillor detonated what has already become a notorious New York Times Book Review bomb underneath French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy’s latest sojourner tome, American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville. Lévy is known as one of the foremost continental exponents of “anti-anti-Americanism,” yet Keillor—and not a few bloggers—remain unappeased by what Keillor calls the “Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics & Faux Culture Excursion” that was the basis for Lévy’s book.

Michael Schaub at literary blog Bookslut takes the side of the rock-star philosophe with the blow-dried ‘do: “Every time I think of Garrison Keillor, I think of his doppelganger on that one episode of The Simpsons: ‘Well, sir, it has been an uneventful week in Badger Falls … where the women are robust, the men are pink-cheeked, and the children are pink-cheeked and robust’ … Stupid essayist! Be more funny!”

Yet grad student Josh Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas thinks someone beat Keillor to the punch—more than 100 years ago Rosenau cites Mark Twain’s “Essays on Bourget” as the gold standard of hilarious Yankee épatement of Gallic condescension and asks, “Is now the time to ask why it is that France seems to think that America is in desperate need of explaining, and why it is that the French are convinced they are the ones to do it?”

Even conservative attorney blogger New Sisyphus is awarding no points to Lévy, and he calls Keillor’s takedown “refreshing”: “I don’t like Garrison Keillor. At all. To me, he typifies that oh-so-enlightened and taxpayer subsidized liberal that has become the insufferable hallmark of National Public Radio. … But, in this day and age, it’s like pure gold to be treated to a liberal who is also a patriot.”

Read what bloggers are saying about l’affaire Lévy. Also check out BHL’s response to the Keillor critique in the New York Sun. Alan Wolfe and Franklin Foer discussedAmerican Vertigo in Slate’s “Book Club.”