Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Prexy's SOTU Performance

I’ve been reasonably attentive to President Obama’s speeches since his campaign days, feeling such to be necessary in order to express opinions about them and him. State-of-the-Union speeches were characterized last March by SCOTUS Chief John Roberts, who endured Obama’s public humiliation of the SCOTUS during last years SOTU, as like a “pep rally,” but I’ve endured them anyway…until the latest one on the 25th. After enduring the marathon speech last January, I decided to just read the transcript of Obama’s latest SOTU offering, preferring to read a book instead of sitting through it.

The current SOTU speech was also a marathon of sorts and would have been considerably longer if there had been the usual extensive clapping, hurrahs, jumping up and down and general mayhem. One remembers the “Pelosi-in-the-box” of other days when she resembled a jumping-jack, forcing Veep Biden to do the same, with both of them worn to a frazzle by the end of the speech and Pelosi’s face probably susceptible to serious breakage. According to the media, this speech evoked no such outpourings of childish behavior, perhaps not least because the House is now so overwhelmingly republican.

I relented and tuned in for a few minutes toward the end of the speech and caught, among other things, this gem: “And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.” This was Obama’s recognition of the fact that the vast majority of Americans have no use for Islam and its hate-mongering and fatwas. He should have left the subject alone…for the sake of the Muslims, whom he pointedly implied to also be subjects of hate. Quite uncivil on his part!

In my time of viewing, the applause was perfunctory and in blessedly short bursts, with the president exhibiting little or no passion…simply reading the teleprompter. This was quite unlike his performance at the Tucson memorial service, which Roberts probably also would have characterized as a “pep rally.” Then, the president was animated, seemingly passionate and uninhibited. He was in campaign mode playing upon people’s emotions, but in the SOTU speech he was confronted with cold, hard facts regarding administration policies inordinately repudiated last November by the sea-change in House membership.

At the outset, the president said this: “It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands.” It’s hard to imagine a statement like that in the wake of the weeks-long pounding of the mainstream media (his propaganda arm) since the Tucson massacre on republicans as sanguinary blood-letters, vicious in rhetoric so inflammable that it drove young Loughner (apparently already insane) to murder.

So…whoever wrote the speech didn’t catch that little slip-up but one might hope the president would have. Does he now think contention is good or bad? Who knows? In any case, the Congress-people had made a joke of the whole speech with their “dating” arrangements, pairing avowed enemies as seat-mates apparently never again to be contentious, even though the president…but then he may have just been pulling a John Kerry – being against contentiousness after being for it, or vice versa. So much for civility, the media buzzword for days on end!

The speech involved the usual boilerplate expected of the party in power…much braggadocio abetted by exotic projects on the drawing-boards. Just read the transcript. The term “investment” seems now to have replaced the term “taxes.” In his large section on education, something the feds should avoid completely, Obama said this: “In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice … .” A sharp sixth-grader would have caught that common but unforgivable grammatical error, especially in something as at least allegedly important as a presidential address.

To this reader, this was a simply astounding statement near the end of the effort of more than 7,000 words: “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.” Egad…there’s that same grammatical error but worse than that is the inference that anyone has ever been denied military service because he/she loves the wrong person! Speechwriting evaluation is not the president’s strong point. He needs another gaggle of writers or – perish the thought – he simply needs to get a grip on both substance and form himself. That’s perhaps the most juvenile thing that could have been said, and in an un-schooled way in the bargain.

I’m glad I dodged the boredom and, indeed, may never bother watching another SOTU speech. I make no claim to being a top policy-wonk or grammarian, either, but then I’m not responsible for SOTU speeches. They deserve better. Perhaps a written one made available to the press and Congress would be the way to go…but radio/TV has changed all of that, an opportunity for campaigning not to be missed. Prior to President Woodrow Wilson (1913-21), SOTU was delivered as a WRITTEN report…there oughtta be a law…

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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