State of the Union Address

I don’t often blog about politics because it’s such a divisive subject – even among my immediate family, convictions vary widely.

Last night, watching the State of the Union address, I was struck by a couple of things.

What is the point of this big event? There was nothing new announced, nothing groundbreaking or earth-shattering explored. (OK, maybe an actual number for troop drawdown was new, but otherwise…)

Everyone gets dressed up, and attendance for key members of all branches of government seems to be nearly mandatory. The VIPs and guests of honor come to town, and are carefully seated where cameras can easily find them.

The president stands up, and runs down his platform, pretty much adhering closely to party line. Euphemisms and political cliches are rampant. He gets a little cranky about executive-legislative non-cooperation, but gets really excited about a few of last year’s accomplishments. He’s frequently interrupted by partisan applause, more rarely by bipartisan approval.

Then we hear a response from a key, impartial member of the opposing party. While prefacing her comments with the proposition that support for government should be bipartisan, she, too, pretty much runs straight down the opposition party platform.

A representative number of candidates with wooden smiles and perfect hair spend a few minutes onscreen; they, too, emphasize their respective party’s talking points.

At the end of the evening, nothing new has been said. Neither the president nor the opposition party has gained any ground, reached any consensus. No one has solved any problems, no one has proposed any innovative solutions.

So, why is it such a big deal? Why do all the movers and shakers show up for a rehash of old news? I have a theory; it’s a pep rally for our elected leaders, lacking only a hyperactive cheer squad.

One other question: how is it that the State of the Union is strong? Have I missed something during the last year? We’re facing an impending recession, the federal deficit is outrageous, foreign support for US policies is lukewarm-to-hostile, protests rage in the street about immigration and the war in Iraq, and approval levels for the existing oligarchy are at an all-time low.

It must be some alternate definition of strong.

12 Responses to “State of the Union Address”

  1. Nathan Says:

    First, here’s an interesting link.

    It’s the speech where JFK announced the Space Race.

    Note the date of the speech and the opening sentence. It’s also interesting in how substantive and specific the speech is. Nothing like what we’ve come to expect.

    I meant to say something about the Opposition Response, too. What a crock. There’s no Constitutional requirement for it. If the SOTU address has become empty, the response has always been even more so. The only thing it does is let the opposition prop up some local or regional figure to get them national exposure. The one from last night is apparently a front runner for the VP slot if Obama gets the nomination. (Review of her? She’s either not a very good public speaker or the guy operating the teleprompter was playing a prank by pausing it every couple of sentences.)

  2. Janiece Says:

    Jeri, in this context “strong” means “my bizzaro world version of the State of the Union where I’m a fabulous hero instead of an ignorant git.” Simple.

  3. Jeri Says:

    Nathan, I agree, both the preface remarks and the content of the speech are remarkable.

    I though that opposition responder Governor Sebelius wasn’t a very good speaker either – but mostly because she had such a blank affect. Even Speaker Pelosi, sitting still and doing nothing, had a far more animated face & posture than Sebelius.

  4. Jeri Says:

    Janiece, it sure did seem like some alternate universe, cruising the Denial River, perspective! I would love some nonpartisan honesty from our leaders – like, “Things are pretty challenging, the citizens are increasingly unhappy, and I sure don’t have all the answers. I’ll be working with some of our best analysts and thinkers, though, to come up with ideas – and I’ll present them *substantively* in another address later this year.”

    Gee, there’s a concept.

  5. Janiece Says:

    Jeri, you’re so funny. Nothing like a bit of realism to ensure hilarity ensures.

  6. MWT Says:

    Well, I’ve said elsewhere that I’ve never gotten into the whole point of election “debates” due to the fact that it’s just people exchanging talking points at each other and not saying anything informative. I feel the same way about the State of the Union Address, and have never watched any of them. If they become relevant again in some way, I might start, but for the moment I don’t feel like I miss much by ignoring them.

  7. Jeri Says:

    I hate to be cynical, but MWT, you hit on an important point. It’s not just the speechifying that is irrelevant – I’d submit that 90% of our current political system is irrelevant to the average taxpayer on the street.

    I’m afraid my “rational anarchy” (term by Robert Heinlein) tendencies are showing. :)

  8. Beast Mom Says:

    Perhaps there used to be a point when we didn’t have so much mass media saturating our lives. Now, no news seems “new” and no one has the corner on the market of info dissemination. I agree that the SotUA is sorta’ obsolete. I didn’t even watch it. I knew I’d get next to nothing out of it. This has been true for years now regardless of party or person.

    We haven’t had a real vision-casting LEADER in America for a very long time. We haven’t had a real leader, period. And the future prospects look less competent than ever. Sad.

    What you want, Jeri, is real leadership. That’s what it takes to face the hard realities of the “state of a nation”. All our recent presidents seem very needy in the sense that they “need” to FEEL like they’ve led. Whether it’s denial or legacy-mongering, it’s all the same broken stuff. It’s lack of true leadership. It’s self-focused.

    MY question is, Will a real leader humbly stand up and do the hard things? Will someone please SERVE this country and not just try to own it? All this campaigning by grabby-grabby pseudo leader-wannabes makes me feel sad for our nation.

    As the good book says, “Without vision, the people perish.” That’s pretty much where I’m at these days. America needs pure leadership. We have it in so few places.


  9. Beast Mom Says:

    BTW, have you read “Good to Great”? It’s worth reading. Made me really think. And it’s not just someone blithering on w/ their unfounded opinions on leadership. The book is actually a research report on leadership. The conclusions are unexpected, and yet not. It’s like reading something your mind already knew was true, even though so much in our culture tries to convince us otherwise. The honesty is astonishing.

    I like honesty. I can tell you do too. :)


  10. Bill Says:

    You can summarize this event in one word – Marketing.

  11. Holy Says:

    The point of the State of the Union is to pretend like there is union. Even as you watch the Democratics purposedly avoid clapping. And so you can see if you’ll catch Cheney and Pelosi sleeping, picking their noses or licking their lips too much.

    There has probably never been a President, save Nixon, who has had to endure the degree of pain in maintaining the farce as has Bush. But he’s so deluded that in his own twisted way, he probably doesn’t see it as a farce.

    I caught a couple of minutes of it but it was just bad rhetoric, mixed with those evil eye glare stares that Bush likes to direct at his audience when he’s trying to look serious and intent. It comes off as just plain creepy.

  12. Jeri Says:

    BM – that’s a really good insight! We need true leadership, not just posturing and platitudes. I do have the book Good to Great and have not yet read it – an odd exception for me! Thanks for the recommendation – I have put it next in my pile.

    Bill – ROFL. It’s so sad that self-promotion triumphs over substance in our political arena!

    Holy, the thing I found disquieting was the way he smirked when he got applause. For the most part, the applause wasn’t for him… it was for something he was supporting, like troops & military families, or increasing funding for scientific research. IMHO a polished public speaker typically wouldn’t smirk in those circumstances, it seems self-serving, although they might graciously acknowledge the applause.