The reason the President will get a boost from the State of the Union address is due to the comparison with dour Paul Ryan and simply nutty Michele Bachmann. Both of them were relentlessly negative as the President was positive. Both of them also said things that were manifestly untrue, things that they get away with when only conservative media is listening (“America is just like Greece!” “Health care will send 16,000 IRS agents to your door!”), but which can be easily debunked by a media that bothers to do its job. But the difference is more tonal than anything. You essentially have Reagan versus Mondale, with Obama in the Reagan part (in more ways than one), and we all know who won that round.

But even as Ryan predicted certain doom for the United States, even as he predicted that the country will be awash in debt, he refused to mention the very place where almost all of our deficit problem springs from – soaring health care costs far above the rest of the world. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but he really said nothing beyond “Health care spending is driving the explosive growth of our debt.” There’s nothing about Medicare, just as there’s nothing about Social Security (outside of “people in and near retirement will be protected”). For all the fearmongering about debt, the speech was short on specifics as well. He made a principles-based argument that we’re all going to pot because of runaway spending. He didn’t even really vow to hold up the debt limit without spending cuts. The classic Randian line was this one:

We are at a moment, where if government’s growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America’s best century will be considered our past century. This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.

And Ryan, of course, gave the good speech last night. From not looking into the camera, to assuring that she was “not there to compete with the official Republican response” within the first 10 seconds, to the dishonest use of statistics about job loss, the whole Michele Bachmann Tea Party Overdrive was a hot mess. She wants the EPA to stop imposing a “job-destroying cap and trade system” that they’re not implementing; she wants regulations that “cost the economy $100 million dollars” – in a $13 trillion dollar economy – repealed. She wants to increase manufacturing by reducing the tax and regulatory burden on job-creators – I guess if American companies can pay in bowls of soup, that’ll bring back the jobs. She says America “has the highest corporate tax rate in the world,” when the effective tax rate is one of the world’s lowest. And I love “just the creation of this nation itself is a miracle.” Not a lot of subtext there. It’s also nice to know that the Battle of Iwo Jima is somewhat different, though not totally, than the current debt crisis.

The speech the President gave shouldn’t look this good by comparison. Sadly, it did.