January 25th, 2012
01:02 PM ET

Letters to the President #1101: 'No more time for talk'

Reporter's Note: The reviews are coming in for President Obama’s State of the Union address, just like my letters come in every day to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

Well, it seems as if your speech last night was received in the fashion one might expect: Democrats liked it, Republicans disliked it, and independents remain somewhere in the middle. That last group is the one I want to write about today.

I was with a focus group in New York, tracking their reactions to all you had to say, and it appears that you still have your work cut out in winning the independents back to your side.  You know as well as I do that you can’t possibly win re-election without them.  So, you may ask, what is the problem?

Fundamentally, in terms of last night’s speech, the issue is that your applause lines, the really big “Wow, you’re going to love this!” moments you had scripted, fell like stones into the sea with the indies.  Every time you turned on the whole “hope” and vision thing, they reacted with such mistrust and…well, almost contempt…that it was unmistakable.  Oh sure, individually, I’m sure some of them weren’t that bothered, but as a group, that was the reaction.  It wasn’t pretty.

When the speech was over, I asked them why they felt that way, and to paraphrase they said, “We’ve heard it all before. It’s just talk.  I believed him the first time, and I don’t anymore.”  To that end, it truly appears that your key moments are not compelling, but rather repelling to these folks.

Like I said, it is not pretty, and to be honest I’m not sure what you can do about it.  The only thing these people want (and btw, I’ve seen this effect in more than one place) is results.  They want to see substantial improvements in the economy, in bipartisan cooperation, and political leaders doing what the vast body of American citizens wants…not what the politicians and their special interest groups want.

That’s a tall order to fill.  But it is the key to re-election as far as I can tell.  Because words, no matter how carefully chosen, just aren’t cutting it for those voters anymore.


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