Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 11:11 AM
I have listened to enough State of the Union addresses to know that they invariably amount to a triumph of style over substance. And nothing demonstrates this quite like the most memorable thing about President Obama’s first address last year being not something he said, but a congressman yelling, ‘You lie.’
(“2011 State of the Union Address,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 26, 2011)
My commentaries are replete with lamentations about the “childish spectacle” politics in America has become. This is reflected in everything from politicians spending more time hurling schoolyard insults at each other than enacting laws to the president and congress playing a game of chicken with the country’s full faith and credit instead of reconciling its worsening budget crisis.
In fact, it’s an indication of just how childish a spectacle politics has become that President Obama himself felt constrained to make the following lamentation in his second inaugural address just weeks ago:
We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.
(Washington Post, January 21, 2013)
It has turned into a childish spectacle. I don’t want to be there to lend dignity to it.
(Huffington Post, February 13, 2013)
Hear, hear! (Overlooking, of course, that this is coming from a man who wore a Mickey Mouse cap to that very formal inauguration ceremony referenced above.)
That said, one can be forgiven for thinking that this is just a manifestation of another of my lamentations — on the political partisanship that now besets even the Supreme Court. And, ironically, nobody is more responsible for this childish spectacle than the dogmatically conservative Scalia. Therefore, let me hasten to clarify that this is the 16th consecutive year (spanning Democratic and Republican presidents) that Scalia has refused to lend dignity to this most august political spectacle of all.
All presidents pad their addresses with feel-good proposals. And even the most popular presidents know that 95% of them will never be implemented.
(“2007 State of the Union Address,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 24, 2007)
Actually, in this respect, the president of the United States is rather like the president of a high-school senior class promising everything from better school lunches to more school holidays.
And nothing adds to the spectacle in both cases quite like the president’s supporters greeting each promise with jubilant ovations while his opponents remain firmly seated on their hands; notwithstanding that the promise in question is something both sides favor, but which both sides know stands only a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being fulfilled. Not to mention the patent absurdity of presidents repackaging the same SOTU address to deliver before a joint session of congress each year.
This is why the spectacle of what Obama said last night was surpassed only by the spectacle of the way members of Congress reacted. And, insofar as SOTU addresses are concerned, it has always been thus. Which is why, to preserve their own dignity, presidents should revert to the 19th century practice of just mailing it in.