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Obama's Rhetorical Skills Bolster His Economic Message

Public opinion polls suggest that President Barack Obama bolstered support for his economic policies Tuesday with his speech to a joint session of Congress and the American people. Mr. Obama is about one third of the way through his first 100 days in office, a time when presidential success is the subject of careful scrutiny.

Mr. Obama faced a difficult task in his speech. He needed to inspire a nation where people are losing jobs, losing homes, and in some cases, losing hope.

"We will rebuild, we will recover and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before," said president Obama.

CNN and CBS News polled viewers during the president's speech and found evidence that he was persuasive in building support for his economic recovery plan.

Anthony Salvanto directs surveys for CBS.

"Before the speech, 71 percent said they were optimistic about the next four years with Barack Obama as president, and that went up to 80 percent after they tuned in to the speech," said Anthony Salvanto.

Of course, not everyone agreed with the president's approach.

Republicans generally believe the president's stimulus plan was laden with too much government spending and not enough in the way of tax cuts.

The official Republican response to Mr. Obama's address came from a newcomer to the national stage, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

"Democratic leaders in Washington, they place their hope in the federal government," said Bobby Jindal. "We [Republicans] place our hope in you, the American people."

Jindal reportedly has presidential aspirations of his own despite the fact he is only 37 and has been governor a little more than one year.

But other Republicans were quick to complement President Obama's speaking skills. Among them was the man he defeated for the presidency last November, Arizona Senator John McCain.

"I thought it was a very effective speech," said John McCain. "He is a great communicator, and it was a good moment, I hope, a lesson for all of us to work together in a bipartisan fashion. That is what Americans want."

Mr. Obama is expected to continue to extend the hand of bipartisanship, even though it brought him limited success during the debate over his economic stimulus bill.

But the president's desire to change the partisan tone in Washington may be bearing fruit with the public.

Recent national polls show more than 60 percent of voters approve of Mr. Obama's first weeks in office.

Quinnipiac University (Connecticut) pollster Peter Brown says a recent survey in Florida also suggests that most Americans are willing to give the new president time to see if his economic plan works.

"Now obviously, President Obama is getting a honeymoon from the voters, and the question is whether it will last or not. There certainly is a lot of grumbling in Washington about the stimulus package and it was not quite what some people wanted. But clearly, at least in Florida which has traditionally been a red [Republican] state, voters are giving him the benefit of the doubt."

Since the time of Franklin Roosevelt in the early 1930's, presidents have been evaluated on their first 100 days in office. Mr. Roosevelt set a high standard for quick government action during his first 100 days, and some historians see similarities to what President Obama is trying to accomplish.

Matt Dallek is a political historian at the University of California's Washington Center.

"A lot of economists are saying this is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," said Matt Dallek. "And you have a sense of fear that in some ways today with the proliferation of media is a very powerful, psychological force, and those I think are strong parallels."

Dallek and other experts believe Mr. Obama is more likely to be judged on his first year or two in office, rather than the 100 days standard.

In his speech, the president also touched on long-term economic challenges like expanding health care coverage, improving education and making the United States more energy independent.

"Obama was looking well past economic recovery to what happens afterward, and he is trying to set an agenda for now just one term, but two," said University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato.

Barack Obama proved during last year's presidential election that he is a talented political campaigner. Mr. Obama is now striving to demonstrate his skills as a presidential communicator in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.