Obama's State of the Union decoded

Wednesday - 1/26/2011, 9:31am EST

Robert Lehrman, Associate Adjunct Professor of Public Communication, American University

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

You've heard it before: it's not just what you say, it's how you say it. Each year, the president's State of the Union speech is analyzed both for content and performance.

This year, Federal News Radio asked a former speechwriter for vice president Al Gore and professor of public communication at American University, Robert Lehrman how President Barack Obama did in this year's State of the Union address.

"I thought it was a brilliant speech. I thought it exceeded expectations unless you're expecting the impossible," said Lehrman.

Lehrman said the speech itself was tactically brilliant. It was gracious to House Speaker John Boehner, full of concessions to Republicans "which makes him seem credible," and focused on things impossible to object to like innovation and education.

Lehrman had high praise as well for the language. "As somebody who teaches speechwriting, this speech was full of good lines. It was speech people could understand," with shorter sentences and easier words than the usual speech. Lehrman said he ran the text through a computer analysis and found it was written on an 8th grade reading level.

As to the critics who said there wasn't enough detail about how to cut the deficit, in Lehrman's estimation "it would have been wrong to do that. He's not supposed to give us detail in a speech like that. That's the perspiration side of politics, he's into the inspiration side here."

As far as the skill of the speech, Lehrman nearly gushed. "I have read every single State of the Union speech. All 200 of them, actually, in my life. This is the best written one I have ever seen, for its concrete detail, for its novel use of story." The speech, he said, was laced with stories and "terrifically well written."

The professor gave two examples from the speech of what he meant by that.

"...whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but the light to the world."

Lehrman said that line in particular resonated with him because of its antithesis. And as for an example of the detail, he pointed to this line:

"I've seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets."

"This," said Lehrman, "is not somebody who talks in abstractions. He talks in detail that can make things real to people."

You can read the speech for yourself, and watch the video on FederalNewsRadio.com.