Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How 'Bout Focusing on the State of the Union?

Tonight, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. While the media and the political community always make much ado about this annual event, I'll admit I couldn't care less.

It's not that I'm not interested in the state of our country, and it isn't that I don't support President Obama, even if I don't always agree with his actions. It's just that the State of the Union has become more about the event and the reaction than the actual address. I feel that the opposing party is ready with its response before the address actually happens. And this happens no matter what party the president belongs to and no matter which party is in power.

Every time I watch the State of the Union on television I'm struck by dual folly: the president's party leaping to their feet like they were cranked out of jack-in-the-boxes, vociferously cheering and clapping as if the president promised two Christmases every year for the rest of his term, and the opposing party sternly sitting on their hands, scowling. And of course, during last year's address, we had the openly hostile shouting of "You Lie!" by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) (which, of course, didn't hurt his re-election bid any).

In an ideal world, the State of the Union would be an occasion for the president to confront the challenges the nation faces and outline a plan for how he plans to tackle these problems. But given that we live in a time where, regardless of rhetoric, the party opposing the president is only interested in blocking his progress so as to set a foundation for the next election cycle, what he says won't matter.

Tonight we'll hear a call for civility and collaboration in the wake of the Tucson shooting that injured 18 people, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. But shortly thereafter, Reps. Paul Ryan (R-IL) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) will deliver Republican responses to whatever President Obama has to say. Perhaps they'll do so less combatively (not so likely in Bachmann's case), but the bottom line will be the same as it always is—we're right and the president is wrong.

Was there ever a time when the content of the president's message mattered more than the response to it during and afterward? Will we ever be able to get back to that type of world again?

The idealist in me hopes so; the realist in me knows better. But the dreamer in me likes the thought...

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