Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The State of the Union is Strong. Farcical, but Strong

Last night at dinner I observed that the State of the Union address would be broadcast that evening. I was about to say that maybe we should give PBS a try, or check on this Netflix thing I've been hearing about, when my daughter told us she'd been assigned to watch the SOTU for school.

"Look, you don't have to watch," I said. "I'll tell you what's going to happen. The president will slowly come down the center aisle, mobbed by other government people who want to be shown shaking hands with him on TV. Then he'll start by saying, "The State of the union is strong." The Democrats will all cheer wildly, and the Republicans will scowl and sit on their hands. The Supreme Court and Joint Chiefs will attempt to appear politely interested.

"Then he'll make a lot of sound-bite statements about how he's made our country. The Democrats will cheer wildly; the Republicans will scowl and sit on their hands.

"He'll introduce some ordinary Americans, who just happen to be sitting next to Michelle Obama, and tell the touching story of how they found their piece of the American dream. The Democrats will cheer wildly, and the Republicans will sit on their hands, UNLESS the ordinary American happens to be a member of the armed forces, at which point everyone in the room, even Anthony Scalia, will cheer wildly. No one wants to look like they don't support the troops.

"Then the President will say a bunch of things he'd like to do, that he doesn't have a prayer of actually doing, but that sound good on tv. When he's done the Republicans will get on tv and talk about what a lousy President he's been.

"That's it," I said. "It's the same every time. When a Republican is president the sides switch."

My daughter shrugged. "I have to watch and take notes for my government class."

"But it isn't government," I said. "It's theater of the absurd."

We watched it, because she's such a conscientious student, but really we didn't have to. Behind the president, Biden nodded like a grinning bobblehead, and Boehner, who'd had some funky kind of spray tan, scowled. Once we rewound the tv to see if Ruth Bader Ginsburg really had fallen asleep, but she was just getting kind of blinky.

Every year I feel more frustrated with politics. I hate the way Democrats spend money. I hate the way Republicans approach most social issues. It makes me crazy how they all seem to value style over substance, how they preen for the camera and say the stupidest things known to humankind.

Obama's speech was fine, for the circumstances. But I long for the days of Teddy Roosevelt, who wrote his own State of the Union address, typed it out, and had to sent by courier to the Senate, where some lackey read it outloud to a joint chamber completely devoid of television cameras. Take a way the visuals, and the President might have to say something meaningful.