Peggy Noonan doesnt think so:
People dont say as often as they used to, "You watch Bushs speech last night?" Or they dont ask it with the same anticipation and interest.
I think that Americans have pretty much stopped listening to him. One reason is that you dont have to listen to get a sense of whats going on. He does not appear to rethink things based on new data. You dont have to tune in to see how hes shifting emphasis to address a trend, or tacking to accommodate new winds. For him there is no new data, only determination.
He repeats old arguments because he believes they are right, because he has no choice--in for a penny, in for a pound--and because his people believe in the dogma of the magic of repetition: Say it, say it, to break through the clutter.
Theres another reason people dont listen to Mr. Bush as much as they did. It is that in some fundamental way they know they have already fully absorbed him. Hes burned his brand into the American hide.
I agree with some of this. Whats impressive about the President is often not what he says or the way he says it (no Churchill, he), but the conviction with which he says it. Of that conviction were already convinced. Some of us like it a lot, some a little, some not at all. (Rasmussen has lately pretty consistently had the "strongly disapproves" of the Bush presidency at 38%. Theres likely nothing other that "Im resigning" that could win any plaudits from that group.)
Far be it from me to dissaude President Bush from speaking. Im in love with, perhaps overly so, with words, which is an occupational hazard of the business Im in. But I dont think too many people will pay close attention until some big event makes them do so. Then words matter, as they did in the days immediately after 9/11.
Id like to put two propositions out there for NLTs master logicians to chop up into tiny bits. First, because events dont speak for themselves but must be set in a coherent and meaningful framework, speeches are important. But speeches themselves rarely (not never, just rarely) set the events in motion. Speeches depend upon deeds (ours, or the other guys), which in turn demand both an active and verbal response. But without actions, speech degenerates into mere talk, to which we pretty quickly cease to pay attention. (Bill Clinton might have been entertaining, but we knew he wasnt too serious.)
Second, despite their ultimate importance, the relative weakness of speeches tempts us to discount them and to rely on deeds alone. Presidents sometimes act without trying to explain themselves. Of this approach, Richard Nixon was the champion, but George Bush also falls prey to the temptation, which is especially powerful when so many people refuse to listen, or willfully misunderstand what theyre hearing.
In the end, you have to talk and act (doh!), but the actions have to be intended to provoke a rational response. Thus when GWB served the ball into Congress court last week, he was doing the right thing. Unfortunately, the response he seems to have elicited involves just plain talk.