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Bloggers, Columnists React to Obama Speech

BY Dave Gustafson   September 10, 2009 at 5:49 PM EDT

President Barack Obama speaks to Congress Wednesday night

The president had several — sometimes conflicting — goals in his televised Wednesday night address. He aimed to rally the public to support health care reform, to energize both liberal and conservative congressional Democrats who have criticized his plans, and to reach out to the few moderate Republican legislators who might still be willing to support some version of his reform push.

It’s too early to tell whether the president was successful in rallying the public to the cause, said Megan McArdle, who blogs about health policy for the Atlantic Monthly.

Listen to McArdle’s other thoughts on the speech:

Washingtonpost.com blogger Ezra Klein, meanwhile, said the president made progress in explaining his plan to the public. “He had to bring it down to earth, rather than launch it in to orbit, and I think he did,” Klein said.

Listen to his other thoughts here:

Overall, the president “met or succeeded most observers’ expectations,” the Atlantic Monthly wrote in its blog roundup. The post tabulated 24 positive responses and only five negative and 14 mixed among a mix of high-profile bloggers and analysts.

Tom Shales, television critic for the Washington Post, said that despite a format that offered opportunities for distraction and interruption (for both applause and heckles) from a live audience of lawmakers: “It’s hard to think of another living politician who could have put it over with more oomph or elegance.”

On issues of substance rather than style, Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib noted that the president’s message was calculated to appeal to many audiences — telling political liberals he still supported the public option, while reassuring those worried about cost that the plan would not exceed $900 billion. “That mix of messages certainly was designed to shoot the narrow gap between right and left in Congress. But it also is structured to move through a similar opening for action in public opinion,” he wrote.

That strategy was not entirely successful, though, with left-leaning bloggers like Kevin Drum of Mother Jones complaining that Obama went overboard in an attempt to appeal to a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Meanwhile, right-leaning columnist Michael Gerson of the Washington Post said there was “nothing new” in Obama’s speech.

Other analysts, such as Jonathan Chait at the New Republic, suggested that Mr. Obama’s speech, whether good or bad, would have little effect in the end on the outcome of health care reform — which he argued now rests mainly in the Senate’s hands.

The fact-checkers were also out in force, vetting the president’s speech for any untruths or half-truths. The St. Petersburg Times’ fact-checking project PolitiFact took issue with his statement that funding preventative care for everyone will save money overall. PolitiFact also fact-checked the president’s heckler, arguing that Republican Rep. Joe Wilson’s claim that health care reform would insure illegal immigrants is false.

The Associated Press fact checkers, meanwhile, argue that there’s no guarantee of truth for President Obama’s statement that eliminating medical waste and fraud could pay for most of health reform.