(Disclaimer: I don’t know what the hizzie is wrong with the format today. It doesn’t matter what I do – I can’t get this post to space properly in paragraph form.)
There are lots of reasons to be glad that women have come into their own in Congress despite lower numbers now than in 2008). One of my favorite reasons is that they add so much more color to the floor during the State of the Union. Seriously. All the men wear suits in varying shades of blue or gray, but the women? They pop. They make sure they shine, stand out in shades of chartreuse, fuscia, purple, kelly green, red. You know where they are and you know where they stand.
Obviously, that’s a completely moronic obseravation about the State of the Union address. Still, it’s true.
And by the way, when the president said that women should earn equal pay for equal work, all the women stood immediately. I couldn’t help but notice it took the men a little longer.
I like to find things to laugh about in the annual speech. Not so much in the speech itself, but in the reactions of those who are there to hear it. For instance, I turned it into a drinking game. (Not for me, but for others who might have been allowed to imbibe freely while watching.) Drink every time the president is interrupted for applause. Two sips if they stand. A full shot when Vice-President Biden makes a funny face. Oh, and if Speaker Boehner cries? Chug.
Obviously that wasn’t going to happen last night. But my sister texted me to say he looked constipated.
I also laughed about the fact that House Majority Whip and Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor had to look around for people who liked him enough to shake his hand when he walked in after the president. It took him five rows to find anybody. “Hi. Um… I’m Eric Cantor? I’m the majority whip…? You.. I’ve called you… h–hi–hi! Oh, hi! Yes, shake hands! Good!”
Not a terribly popular fellow, Mr. Cantor.
I always sort of swell with the glory of patriotism when I hear the applause that greets the president and endures until he takes the podium. I like the sign of respect, even when half the people in the room aren’t big fans of whoever holds the office. Obviously, the room can’t very well fall silent as the president walks to his post – that would be awkward, so clearly they have to do something. But when the president did get to his position, the applause stopped so suddenly I was a little surprised.
Was that… recorded applause? Did they clap-sync along until someone hit the STOP button?
Obviously, the president knew to lead with the wins, the stuff nobody could begrudge him. Hey, the war in Iraq is over. Oh, Osama bin Laden? He’s dead. We did that. The Taliban (which the president pronounces correctly and always sends me into a chorus of “Day-Oh!” “Come, Mister Taliban, tally me bahnahnah.”) is vastly weakened. The auto industry? Saved it. Three million jobs in 22 months? Got ’em.
Speaker Boehner wasn’t sure what to do with himself right then, by the way. It’s hard to convince the country that there are three million new jobs when it seems the same number of people don’t have any. And nobody who didn’t favor the auto industry bailout likes to admit that it worked.
We can hash out the seven program or agency proposals that spending hawks will say only cost more money. He even told states and education institutions that they needed to stop relying on federal funding and find ways for themselves to be more cost-efficient, which sounded to me a lot like the unfunded mandates that governors complained about under the Bush “No Child Left Behind” plan. Yes, new programs usually do cost money, but every SOTU is about outlining new plans. It’s about the president laying out his ideas for what he would like to see get done in Congress. And did you catch his notation that most Americans don’t believe anything’s going to get done, anyway?
“The greatest blow to confidence in our economy last year didn’t come from events beyond our control. It came from a debate in Washington over whether the United States would pay its bills or not. Who benefited from that fiasco?”
Holla! Called ’em out! It’s like he read my rant about the deficit and debt ceiling debate. I’m sure that’s exactly what happened. He read it. Totally.
Right after that, the president asked Congress to send him a bill banning insider trading for members of Congress. And people booed.
Are we, like, in favor of insider trading now, or something? Somebody call Martha Stewart.
Mr. Obama did lay out how he wants to help loosen up the crippled cogs in the Congressional wheels. After asking for that ban on insider trading, he asked to limit any elected official’s holdings of stock in companies they impact with legislation. He asked that people who bundle contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice-versa (if I read that right, it’s a reference to Super-PACs). And he asked that he be given the authority to consolidate the “federal bureaucracy” so that he can make government “leaner, quicker, and more responsive.” Sounds like a plan to shrink the government, or at least an homage to the idea.
The president actually said several things last night that made me think he was beginning to run more to the right. He pointed out that, contrary to some opponents’ criticisms, he has approved fewer regulations in the last three years than President George W. Bush did in his first three. He crowed about the benefits of the bailouts and then said they’d never happen again. He said, “An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.” And all that was the opening salvo to his introduction of the country’s new consumer advocate, Richard Cordray. Another tough moment for Speaker Boehner and crew, because nobody thinks it’s a bad idea to have someone look out for average Americans in dealing with credit card companies and the like… but the Republicans held up Cordray’s confirmation for six months and the president did an end-around and appointed him during the holiday recess. Heehee! To clap, or not to clap?
But while expounding on the virtues of ending senseless regulation and instituting sensible regulation, Mr. Obama tried to make a funny.
Milk, it seems, was once considered a bit of a hazard if it spilled. Now, I’m sure that’s an overstatement for why dairy farmers had to spend $10,000 to prove they could contain a spill, but the president’s joke went like this: “With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.”
Um, did Sasha write that joke? C’mon, Mr. President. You’re wittier than that.
By the way, I checked the text of the speech as prepared for delivery. That line is in it. It wasn’t ad-libbed. The president is funnier when he ad-libs.
I’m going to skip all the stuff about tax code and who should pay what, because everybody already knows that song, and nothing about it was funny, except the use of Warren Buffett’s secretary as a prop for the argument, sitting in the First Lady’s box seats. Really? That wasn’t a little opportunistic?
It was a good speech. It highlighted what the president wants to accomplish without beating a drum too loudly. It highlighted some of what he has accomplished without too much chest-thumping. It kicked off his campaign for re-election quite nicely, since it reached back a few years instead of just covering the last 12 months. And it put in the most positive of terms that which was difficult to parse: early on: “The state of our union is getting stronger.” And in the end, “As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our union will always be strong.”
A more pride-stirring approach than an analytical one. Probably a good way to go.
I’m going to leave you with a photo of what I think was the most priceless moment of the evening. Sure, it was somewhat planned; the president knew who he was going to see and there was time for the network’s cameras to maneuver into position to capture it. But the emotion of the meeting seemed so genuine, and the joy of it so full, that it could not be ignored.
The president hugged Representative Gabrielle Giffords gently but completely, wrapping the tiny woman up in his lanky frame. And as she lingered with her head on his shoulder, he rocked her back and forth in a simple motion of elation at her survival and recovery.
That’s a political maneuver we can all embrace.
Transcript of speech: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/us/politics/state-of-the-union-2012-transcript.html
Transcript of Republican response: http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/24/politics/sotu-gop-response-transcript/index.html
Now on my bookshelf: The Paris Wife – Paula McLain