With the exception of clicking in for a few minutes mid-speech, I didn’t bother watching the State of the Union address last Tuesday.
That evening, Tuesday in most places but Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, I was entertaining some guests from Ireland and I figured they would enjoy watching the Rex ball on public television more than seeing a politician prattle on about the need to spend more money the government doesn’t have.
Especially when they could just as well do that back home.
When I logged on to the internet the next day to see what President Obama said and the GOP’s response, I saw a flurry of articles about rising Republican star Marco Rubio drinking a bottle of water and that John Boehner didn’t stand up when the president referenced someone in attendance.
America is $16.5 trillion with a giant “T” in debt and what do the news gatekeepers got out of the evening? Juvenile mockery for the opposition party and benign indifference to a president in his second term who continues to disavow his first.
The State of the Union has become grotesque political theatre. Instead sharing with the public a legislative blueprint for an administration, they’ve morphed into a quilt of name drops and forced applause lines. I use they as the State of the Union is a collaborative mess involving all parties.
Rather than laying out an agenda, President Obama has turned them into campaign rallies. Under the current regime, it’s devolved into a game of “Simon Says”, as GOP members are condemned for their lack of spirit and enthusiasm.
The next president in conjunction with congressional leaders could do the country a big favor by establishing a new framework for the State of the Union.
First, end the name dropping. Special guests and distinguished individuals can be invited and the media can focus their cameras on these VIPs at some point during the address, but the focus should be the speech.
Secondly, there should be no applause lines in the address. Even when I watched the State of the Union as I kid I thought the constant standing ovations were silly.
The speech would move faster and the easily distracted media might actually focus on what the president says and how it squares with his (or her) record.
Aspects of the address that seem better suited for a political rally should be left out: the US House of Representatives chamber is a historic venue and should not be confused with a high school gym with red, white and blue ribbon hanging from the rafters.
The one segment of the State of the Union I saw was the president’s attempt to start a “deserve a vote” chant related to his Second Amendment infringement agenda. I can think of many items that were passed by the US House that deserve a senate vote that have been unilaterally torpedoed by Harry Reid, though I found the president’s cheerleading attempt as offensive in style as substance.
Members of Congress should behave more like the Supreme Court justices who quietly observe the speech with a poker face, perhaps the one thing the federal judiciary gets right
Thirdly it’s time for members of Congress to end the practice of acting like fools on national television to mug for the camera, get a fist bump or pathetically lean over their colleagues or security to snag an autograph.
There are times and places for that kind of conduct: spring training and Comic Con.
Elected members of the national legislative branch to quit acting like a bunch of “fanboys” with bad comb overs.
Fourthly, members of Congress should try not to attract attention to themselves through scrawled notes intended to be picked up by the cameras, shouting or going “political NASCAR” by wearing ostentatious lapel decorations.
It should come as no surprise that people behave better while paying homage to pretend royalty at a Mardi Gras ball than those with floor seats for the State of the Union. I did not see a single white tie attired guest step on Rex’s train in order to score his signature on a program.
The White House, Congress and media should look at remaking the annual presidential address to the legislative branch and the nation into a shorter, more somber and substantive event.
With more people watching the State of the Union and paying closer attention to the government, the actual state of the union could only improve.