SOTU: Bottoms Up!!
San Francisco-based comedian Will Durst has a most humorous column about President Obama’s upcoming State of the Union Address. He sees it las less a speech and more a drinking game — as such, a sad commentary not on the state of the union, but the state of political stagecraft.
“Whenever the president defends Obamacare, everybody drinks 2 shots of beer. If he mentions Congress voting to repeal it, drink a whole beer and throws hot dogs at the television. The first person to hit Nancy Pelosi in the head is exempt from having to drink 2 shots of bourbon.
If the president relates a touching heartfelt story of a supporter who was denied a decent education, Rags gets to kick everybody else once. Twice, if the subject of the anecdote is in the audience. 3 times, if he/she is sitting next to a two-star general.”
So who’s to blame for this serious moment in democracy to be taken all the less seriously?
You can pin some of it on Woodrow Wilson, who made it a practice, starting back in 1913, to venture up to Capitol Hill and deliver the message in person. Before that, most presidents literally mailed it in to Congress — all the president’s legally required to do is inform Congress “from time to time”. He can deliver his speech, post a letter, send an email, or spray-paint his thoughts on the side of the U.S. Capitol. It’s the president’s call.
Or you can blame FDR, who coined the phrase “State of the Union” back in 1934. Before that, the big speech was “The President’s Annual Message to Congress”. Try bracketing and overselling that to the White House press corps.
Harry Truman was the first president to take the SOTU to television. Let’s toss him under the bus — along with LBJ, who was the first president to deliver the address in prime time.
Even Ronald Reagan is partly to blame, for theatrics.
His 1982 address featured high praise for Lenny Skutnik, one of the heroes of the Air Florida crash and rescue operation in the Potomac River. Since then, the “hero” has become a familiar (and, imo, a far-too-predictable) prop in the speech. Tonight’s no different, as Daniel Hernandez, the lifesaving intern to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, will be seated next to the First Lady.
So here’s what you’re probably getting tonight: (1) The lessons of Tucson tell us that we must be more civil in our discourse, beginning here in Washington (2) the people have spoken, they want responsible choices and fiscal discipline; (3) the economy is starting to grow, therefore we must invest in ways that further our global competitiveness; (4) none of us came to Washington to engage in trench warfare.
And what if a curmudgeon like me were in charge of this process?
That’s easy. I’ll boil down this bad boy to under a minute.
“This speech is about jobs: not yours, mine. A big shout-out to my peeps in Ohio and Florida.”
“I get it. You want to me to cool it with all the spending.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m going to quit spending — my new chief of staff assures me you have to spend money to make money.”
“I’m willing to work with the other party. But I’m not gonna be pushed around.”
“We’re going to get some things done this year. And we’re going to have our differences. That’s democracy.”
“But on one thing we can all agree: the Bears will never get to the Super Bowl with Jay Cutler at quarterback.”