Thoughts on the State of the Union?

As I type this, Marco Rubio is wrapping up his response to the State of the Union. And I find myself wondering yet again, as I do every year this time, no matter who is in the White House… how did this ridiculous ritual get started?

I don’t mean the SOTU; I mean the response. The State of the Union is the president fulfilling a constitutional duty — which, by the way, he can do in writing (just a suggestion). But as much as that has transformed into political theater, the response is nothing but theater.

And you know what? It always comes across as lame, no matter which party is delivering it or which up-and-comer they choose to be the face of it. It rubs our noses in the fact that partisanship is so obligatory and ritualized today that an elected official can’t even deliver a constitutionally-mandated  message without the other party immediately standing up to say “nyah-nyah, that guy’s full of it.”

The artificiality of it is underlined by the fact that it is not a response at all, but a speech prepared ahead of time — a set of partisan talking points that the party wants to deliver regardless of what the president said.

Anyway, to me, the party delivering the response always comes across as petty and pointless. To me, anyway. Kind of sad, really.

Enough about that. Thoughts on the real speech, the one the president gave? Here’s an assessment from over at the WashPost:

That was an incredibly ambitious speech.

Imagine, for a moment, that President Obama managed to pass every policy he proposedtonight. Within a couple of years, every four-year-old would have access to preschool. The federal minimum wage would be at $9 — higher than it’s been, after adjusting for inflation, since 1981. There’d be a cap-and-trade program limiting our carbon emissions and a vast infrastructure investment to upgrade our roads and bridges. Taxes would be higher, guns would be harder to come by, and undocumented immigrants would have a path to citizenship. America would be a noticeably different country.

Yes, it was ambitious. About everything. I found that no particular part of it stood out for me, because he touched on so many things that he didn’t fully focus on anything. But maybe that’s just me.

I did like the communitarian touch at the end, about “the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another.”

Which of course Rubio summed up as “growing government.” Whatever. Although I’ll say that the president wanted to do so much that anyone would have to wonder at some point how we’re going to pay for it.

What did y’all think?

26 thoughts on “Thoughts on the State of the Union?

  1. Bobby Rettew

    I think it is easy to sit back and criticize the leader of the free world…especially when you want to be the leader of the free world, representing a party that is in search of an identity. I also think it is easy to criticize one that shoots for the moon, especially when it is hard to find that same vision…the only thing you have is criticism and just a little bit of vision. I do know this…I have worked for some wonderful entrepreneurs and serial entrepreneurs…the ones that have the guts to not only swing the bat over and over, but to own it when they go down swinging. But those who sit in the batters box and are still trying to figure out how to take a swing for that one big hit…all they have are words of how they think they can do it better. Just my two cents…great recap!

  2. Steven Davis II

    Obama doesn’t like small business.

    Obamacare is forcing small businesses to hire part-time employees over full-time employees because an employee works more than X-many hours (I believe it’s 28 hours) the employee is required to provide the employee with health insurance.

    Now Obama wants the small businesses to pay a minimum of $9.00/hr. with the new minimum wage hike. What do you think that’s going to do to prices? They’ll have to go up or cut into the small profits the business is already making. Prices go up, people shop elsewhere or don’t buy at all. If the small business can’t absorb the costs they go out of business.

    I watched the online live pulse Bing had running, over 12 million votes during the speech and the overall average never got above -17, most of the time it fluctuated between -65 and -75. The range went from +100 to -100, the average never got above 0. The only times it went above -30 was when he was mentioning soldiers, cops, teachers, etc… who were in the audience.

  3. Doug Ross

    ““the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another.”

    What does that REALLY mean? “Obligations to one another” describes a partnership, doesn’t it. It sets expectations on both sides of “one another”.

    Does it mean dropping out of school? Isn’t each person obligated to achieve the highest level of free education he is offered?

    Does it mean having children out of wedlock who become burdens on the rest of society to provide for? Isn’t each person obligated to be responsible for putting themselves in situations where a child may be produced?

    Does it mean seeking ways to cheat the system of rules and regulations we have in place?

    I think you and Obama don’t truly understand the meaning of obligation. You two think it means taking from some to give to others without any expectations.

  4. Bryan Caskey

    RE: Minimum Wages – Why stop at $9.00/hour? If raising the minimum wage is so great, let’s raise it some more, so we can get even more great effects. Everyone will have more money! There’s no downside, right?

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    A lot of small businesses pay their employees at least that much. It is harder to underpay someone you look in the eye every day.

  6. Bryan Caskey

    Enough about all that. Let’s talk about serious issues: Do you use the Oxford (serial) comma? Example:

    A. I went to the store to buy bread, milk, and eggs. OR
    B. I went to the store to buy bread, milk and eggs.

    Which one do you use? I seem to be the only lawyer I know using example A. It makes me angry, mad, and frustrated that other people don’t use the serial comma.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Because of all those years of writing at newspapers that followed AP style, I don’t use it — at least not in a series as simple as that.

      I have no objection to it, though. And if you’re listing a series of things in which each item takes multiple words to describe, I think it’s positively helpful.

    2. Scout

      So is that what the Vampire Weekend song is about? I use A. I had no idea it had a name. I’ve noticed those missing commas and been mildly annoyed by them. I didn’t know they were officially optional.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    I eschew the Oxford comma, on the theory that the comma replaces the “and” as in “soft, chewy cookies” but not in “bigger chewy cookies”, so that an additional comma is redundant immediately prior to “and.”

    1. Doug Ross

      Looks like liberals use the Oxford comma conservatively and conservatives use it liberally.

      I like like the comma, the semicolon, and the ellipsis…

  8. Bart

    “Enough about all that. Let’s talk about serious issues: Do you use the Oxford (serial) comma?”….Bryan

    Bryan, I think you nailed it! Seriously. The misuse or a comma can create all sorts of mischief and misunderstandings. Think about it.

    It is our duty to support immigration reform, minimum wage increase, and AHA. Each stands on its own. However, if you delete one comma, you tie two things into one.
    It is our duty to support immigration reform, minimum wage increase and AHA. 🙂

    1. Tom Stickler

      Think about the recent arguments over the commas in the Second Amendment, if you want to talk about mischief and misunderstandings.

  9. bud

    I don’t usually use the comma but with very long sentences with complicated items in the list, and where additional puncuation helps, and where it is helpful to the reader I’ll use it.

    Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice are good people. Seems unnecessary here.

  10. Burl Burlingame

    Gerald Ford and Everett Dirkson invented the “response” back in LBJ days. It has really only been popular in years when the GOP is the party on the outs.
    The problem with the responses is that here written ahead of time and based on a fantasy if what the president might say. They are prime-time posturing, not debate.

    1. Bart

      Wouldn’t it be great if the president submitted a copy of a speech to the opposition that is not the one he uses in the STOFU and watch the scramble when they try to reply?

  11. Burl Burlingame

    Commas? We don’t need no steenkin’ commas. No Oxford style commapalooza for me, I’m strictly space-saving AP style all the way. Putting a comma in front of “and” is just effete grammatical bullpucky. And don’t get the typographer within me all riled up by putting commas (or periods) outside of quote marks.
    But I’m ranting. I still haven’t figured which words are the noun, the verb and the adjective in “Works Progress Administration.”

    1. Bart

      “Commas? We don’t need no “steenkin’” commas.”……Burl

      RACIST! RACIST! RACIST! RACIST! How dare you make fun of our Hispanic friends by using an obvious reference to the language used by the misunderstood bandits in the movie, “High Sierra” and made famous later on WKRP when Johnny Fever used the same line, “Badges? We don need no steekin’ bagdes!”

      Shame on you Burl. 🙂

      1. Burl Burlingame

        “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and chinga tu madre!”

  12. Brad Warthen Post author

    It’s fascinating how people can look at the same thing and not see the same thing at all.

    As I noted in my original post above, just minutes after the speech, Ezra Klein over at the WashPost wrote that “That was an incredibly ambitious speech,” and elaborated on the point.

    But the L.A. Times’ Doyle McManus saw the opposite:

    A president who once promised to transform American politics and stop the oceans’ rise has downsized his goals, not because he wanted to but because circumstance has made it necessary.

    A soaring speech full of ambitious new goals wouldn’t make sense in the Washington of 2013. Obama still faces a hostile Republican majority in the House and a forbidding deficit that limits the amount of money he can spend.

    Granted, there wasn’t much that was new in the speech. In fact, I wrote fewer-than-usual Tweets while listening to it because there was so little that I hadn’t heard the president say before. But when you step back and look at it as a whole, what he said adds up to a really ambitious agenda.

    I think McManus confused the lack of newness in the speech with a lack of ambition. They are not the same thing.

    But hey, he still has a job writing for a newspaper and I don’t, so consider the source, eh?


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