Down with the State of the Union

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 8.43.09 AMThat may have been the dullest speech from President Obama I have ever heard; certainly, the worst since his last State of the Union. Like his policies and ideas, his rhetoric has lost its luster. I used to watch his speeches and get nervous about how his smooth-talking and charming style could sell the country on his destructive, big government agenda. I don’t feel that worry anymore. When I watch his speeches now, I feel bored and unstimulated. Perhaps he’s gone to the well too many times. Perhaps the “hope and change” optimism is finally gone. All I hear are the same old ideas, talking points, and rhetorical devices we’ve heard repeated ad nauseam throughout his presidency.

I tuned in with the intention of finding material to counter and assumptions to challenge. Honestly, though, I found myself so uninterested while watching that I gave up on whatever policy discussion I was aiming for. The only observation worth mentioning is how utterly pointless the State of the Union is.

The whole event has devolved into a pep rally. It’s embarrassing to watch old men and women — elected officials in the highest offices of the land, no less — cheer like teenagers at the mere mention of a topic. Not a solution to a problem or a method of implementing a policy mind you, just a mere reference to an issue is enough to earn raucous cheering and a standing ovation. It makes me wonder who this is event is for. Well, no it doesn’t. It’s obvious. The president stands and delivers a shallow speech and is inundated with applause after every phrase. We know exactly who this event is for.

Honestly, I’m surprised that none of our previous chief executives turned it into a bi-annual tradition. Why hold back to just one a year? It’s nothing more than a political rally for the man with the microphone. Why limit the exposure?

To the supposed point of the speech, is there any person less qualified to expound upon the state of things in the nation than the person most insulated from its problems? The king stands before the court and asks his subjects whether it’s good to be a peasant in his kingdom. Gosh, I wonder what he’ll say? This is an American democratic republic: We do not need the political ruling class to describe our problems to us. If anything, the flow of information should go in the opposite direction. Our elected leaders should be hearing from us how the nation is doing, not the other way around.

All that is to say the State of the Union, absent the context of some major national crisis, is an overblown and mostly worthless event. No one has written a more incisive description or pitiless criticism of the SOTU than National Review’s Kevin Williamson, whose words I leave you with:

The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.

It’s the most nauseating display in American public life — and I write that as someone who has just returned from a pornographers’ convention.

There are 18 comments.

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  1. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Matthew, please quit holding back.  Tell us how you really feel.

    • #1
  2. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    Matthew Roy:

    …”The whole event has devolved into a prep rally”…

    Instead of “prep rally” don’t you mean “perp rally”?

    • #2
  3. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    MROY: “All I hear are the same old ideas, talking points, and rhetorical devices we’ve heard repeated ad nauseam throughout his presidency.”

    Me too. Too many people fall prey to the empty promises and rhetoric.
    I skipped sotu and I’m not sorry. Williamson’s words are fab though!
    Thanks for this post.

    • #3
  4. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Matthew Roy: Is there any person less qualified to expound upon the state of things in the nation than the person most insulated from its problems? The king stands before the court and asks his subjects whether it’s good to be a peasant in his kingdom.

    Very well said.

    • #4
  5. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    It is the political equivalent of the Golden Globe Awards: a lot of self-important preening.

    • #5
  6. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    One step away from this. It never gets old. Language warning, but if you didn’t find the Presidents SOTU offensive and obscene in itself,  surely you can tolerate this, from Idiocracy:

    • #6
  7. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    YES!  (All I read was the title of this piece,too.)

    I’m behind anything that takes the air out of the imperial presidency.

    • #7
  8. PsychLynne Inactive
    PsychLynne
    @PsychLynne

    Matthew Roy:
    That may have been the dullest speech from President Obama I have ever heard; certainly, the worst since his last State of the Union. Like his policies and ideas, his rhetoric has lost its luster. I used to watch his speeches and get nervous about how his smooth-talking and charming style could sell the country on his destructive, big government agenda. I don’t feel that worry anymore.

    When he ran, especially in 2008, I saw so many otherwise grounded people just swoon.  And, as someone who does a lot of public speaking, I respected his style.  He could inspire and emotionally connect with a crowd, which can be difficult.

    But over time, his inspiration shifted.  His humor became more biting, he got snarky, then he got outright aggressive while trying to hold onto his initial inspiring words.  This disconnect has left him with little to fall back on except his speaking skills, and they are failing him now.

    His words became cheap and hold less value…from what I hear from my friends on the left side of the political continuum, they even experience some of this same feeling.

    • #8
  9. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Matthew Roy: The whole event has devolved into a pep rally. It’s embarrassing to watch old men and women — elected officials in the highest offices of the land, no less — cheer like teenagers at the mere mention of a topic

    Wouldn’t it be fun the Speaker started banging his gavel and shouted “Order! Order!” during one of the mandatory standing ovations?

    • #9
  10. Matthew Roy Inactive
    Matthew Roy
    @MatthewRoy

    Franco:One step away from this. It never gets old. Language warning, but if you didn’t find the Presidents SOTU offensive and obscene in itself, surely you can tolerate this, from Idiocracy:

    Ha! It’s amazing how similarly shallow the content of the real speech is to this parody.

    Introduce a problem.
    [crowd cheers]
    Simply say we’ll fix the problem.
    [crowd cheers wildly]

    • #10
  11. Matthew Roy Inactive
    Matthew Roy
    @MatthewRoy

    PsychLynne:

    Matthew Roy: That may have been the dullest speech from President Obama I have ever heard; certainly, the worst since his last State of the Union. Like his policies and ideas, his rhetoric has lost its luster. I used to watch his speeches and get nervous about how his smooth-talking and charming style could sell the country on his destructive, big government agenda. I don’t feel that worry anymore.

    When he ran, especially in 2008, I saw so many otherwise grounded people just swoon. And, as someone who does a lot of public speaking, I respected his style. He could inspire and emotionally connect with a crowd, which can be difficult.

    But over time, his inspiration shifted. His humor became more biting, he got snarky, then he got outright aggressive while trying to hold onto his initial inspiring words. This disconnect has left him with little to fall back on except his speaking skills, and they are failing him now.

    You’re 100% right about the snarkiness. His tone has taken a turn away from the positive. It became clear in about the middle of his presidency that he has a vindictive streak in him. You see this come out when he’s talking about his political opposition. The contempt drips off every word.

    • #11
  12. Richard Harvester Member
    Richard Harvester
    @RichardHarvester

    I love the idea of the State of the Union. We are a nation unlike almost all other nations. We are not founded on the ethnicity of the people who happen to occupy our lands – we are founded on an ideology. The State of the Union is an opportunity to speak to that ideology and how it is advanced. It might not be used that way, but that is its purpose and its highest aim. Just because reality is far below our aspirations should not cause us to cut short those aspirations.

    • #12
  13. The Crooked Timber Member
    The Crooked Timber
    @

    The State of the Union address (which historically has been given more in the form of a written letter to Congress than as a live address, let alone a televised one) is yet another unfortunate consequence of the popularizing of the American political system. It should be noted that the Constitution makes no decree necessitating the popular election of the President, and the cult of personality which has grown up around that office has greatly contributed to the civic immaturity and retardation of the nation at large.

    To wit, one can trace the degradation of the American electoral character to several presidential precedents of the 20th century meant to “democratize” the SOTU: Wilson’s decision to deliver the address in-person; Coolidge’s delivery of the address by radio; Truman’s delivery of the address by television; LBJ’s delivery of the address in “prime time;” and Clinton’s delivery of the address via the World Wide Web. Under the auspices of addressing the Congress, the ever-emboldened president pontificates patronizingly from a bully pulpit to the over-pandered and over-promised plebs.

    • #13
  14. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I hesitated watching at all – after all, there was a Mission Impossible movie on, but I did my duty, wanting to hear something about the cities and allies that suffered this year and how he was going to improve security – nothing – and got the worst crick in my neck listening to it (then when I heard Nikki and Ted Cruz speak, I immediately felt better). It was like being in the lion’s den while the lion’s just dozing – a false calm….

    Speaking of dozing, did anyone catch all the yawns and heavy eyelids – I think the Syrian refugee had the heaviest lids – they had to keep panning away quickly – no one smiles – especially the first lady – just snickers – oh except Joe Biden – he smiles.

    They showed Bill Clinton at a recent speech with all the proper people staged behind – mostly youth and the scowls, frowns and rolling eyes were unreal – they showed the people in the background afterward how they looked and they had no recollection of doing it – weird. Must be the same vibe that Obama gives – they put people in a trance…..

    • #14
  15. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    I liked President Camacho’s promise to bring in the best people.

    • #15
  16. Matthew Roy Inactive
    Matthew Roy
    @MatthewRoy

    The Crooked Timber:The State of the Union address (which historically has been given more in the form of a written letter to Congress than as a live address, let alone a televised one) is yet another unfortunate consequence of the popularizing of the American political system. It should be noted that the Constitution makes no decree necessitating the popular election of the President, and the cult of personality which has grown up around that office has greatly contributed to the civic immaturity and retardation of the nation at large.

    To wit, one can trace the degradation of the American electoral character to several presidential precedents of the 20th century meant to “democratize” the SOTU: Wilson’s decision to deliver the address in-person; Coolidge’s delivery of the address by radio; Truman’s delivery of the address by television; LBJ’s delivery of the address in “prime time;” and Clinton’s delivery of the address via the World Wide Web. Under the auspices of addressing the Congress, the ever-emboldened president pontificates patronizingly from a bully pulpit to the over-pandered and over-promised plebs.

    Along with the ever-growing cult of personality that surrounds the presidency, the national media cover politics as if it were entertainment. The fawning media and the way they follow politicians like characters in political theatre only serve to encourage that immature view of politics and government you described.

    • #16
  17. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    My opinion of Obama’s rhetorical skills is that it was his audience that was enraptured and no longer is. He was never that good.

    His first big speech, (no red America, no blue America) was stirring because it was unexpected. It was overpraised because he was “… the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man,” as Joe Biden said. It surprised people the way Susan Boyle’s singing surprised her audience.

    But his next big speech, the so-called race speech to address the Reverend Wright affair, was praised to the heavens even though it was terrible: boring, over-long, off-point, confusing, and, if memory serves, insulting to his own grandmother who raised him.

    He became insulting to Republicans almost from the minute he was elected. “I won,” he told McCain at a conference to hear opposing viewpoints. Don’t get me started on the straw men.

    To this day he still has not delivered a memorable line in any speech as president or candidate.

    • #17
  18. Tony Sells Inactive
    Tony Sells
    @TonySells

    The state of the union speech, as has been said, is very un-American.

    I pledge to vote for any candidate that promises to submit his state of the union in writing only.  Well…except for Trump.

    If Paul Ryan pledges to never invite another president to give such a speech, he should be entitled to the post for lifetime.

    • #18
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