One Tradition That Could Use a Little Work
Yes, this is about State of the Union addresses, which might make it seem a month late. But I prefer to think of it as 11 months early.
OK, so I've had these notes lying around for weeks and am trying to clean off my desk. But this is not specifically about President Obama's first State of the Union address 28 days ago - though I thought it was a reasonably good one, unless you start to wonder where all the money is coming from.
No, the subject du jour is more general: the State of the Union address as a -theatrical production. And how - no matter who's -talking and what party he happens to be in - the thing needs to be retooled if it is to stand a chance in the ratings wars.
First of all, there's the matter of the Double Introduction.
Whose idea was that, anyway? I mean, first you have the sergeant-at-arms, or doorkeeper, or House of Representatives janitor or whoever he is, yelling, "Mr. (or Madame) Speaker, the president of the United States!" Then everybody jumps up and goes nuts and screams and shouts and applauds and stomps (at least everybody in his party) for five or 10 minutes
Then, after the president has mounted the podium and finally managed to get things halfway back under control, the speaker introduces him again - and there's another quarter-hour outbreak of orchestrated -pandemonium before everybody sits down and he can finally manage to get a word in edgewise. What's the deal with that? I'm -pretty sure it's not in the Constitution.
The next problem is making the vice -president and speaker of the House sit there on camera for an hour or more while the speech drones on, looking acutely uncomfortable and not knowing where to look or what to do with their hands. This is an excruciating ordeal for both them and the television -audience. When the speaker is Nancy Pelosi, it can be downright terrifying.
Inevitably, the sight of these two mute -personages squirming in the background always begins to distract from the speech. This is especially true if they're of different parties, in which case media pundits always obsessively analyze how they react. After last year's appearance by Obama before Congress, not actually a State of the Union, late-night comics had a lot of fun counting the astounding number of times Pelosi blinked those furtively darting eyes of hers.
Next, we absolutely need to junk that -modern innovation (definitely not in the Constitution) known as the Opposition Response.
Again, I don't care if the president is a Republican or a Democrat. We elected him. He should speak to us and we should listen to him and then kick the dog or go into the kitchen and open a beer, and that should be it. Where did this stupid equal-time thing come from? After the big speech, why do we make all the TV commentators sit and twiddle their thumbs while we cut to some unknown -jackleg from the other party and elevate him fleetingly to equal status?
Last year it was that disastrous response by Louisiana's Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who spoke with a curly Grinchlike grin on his greenish face while lurking in what appeared to be an alcove in some house somewhere.
This year, it was Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who spoke to an adoring coterie of handpicked Republican dignitaries sitting in the tiny Virginia House of Delegates, which looked like a play version of the chamber Obama had just addressed.
Last reform: We need to stop making the Supreme Court justices attend these events at all.
In the first place, they look silly sitting there in their black robes amid all those business suits. But more important, they're supposed to be too impartial to cheer or stomp or yell "You Lie!", so all they can do is sigh -quietly or discreetly roll their eyes once in a while, which sends the media commentators into another spasm of breathless analysis.
Let Their Honors stay home, I say - or spirit them away to that same bomb shelter or other Undisclosed Location where they always sequester one lone member of the Cabinet, just in case there's some kind of -cataclysm and he or she is the only member of the line of succession left standing.
What kind of cataclysm? I don't know. Pelosi going postal, maybe.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2470 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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