Presented to this Congress are great opportunities. With them come great responsibilities. The power confided to us increases the weight of our obligations to the people, and we must be profoundly sensible of them as we contemplate the new and grave problems which confront us. Aiming only at the public good, we cannot err.
– William McKinley, State of the Union, 1899
We should do away with the State of the Union address.
Just get rid of it altogether.
No speeches. No rebuttals. No letters. Nothing.
It would take a Constitutional Amendment, sure, but I think we'd be healthier for it.
As I said yesterday on social media this address is the vermiform appendix of our republic. It’s a vestigial leftover organ from a more primitive democracy, back when congress really did represent the people.
Nowadays, the State of the Union address does little and serves mostly as a source of swollen inflammation ready to burst apart into full blown infection at any moment.
The original intention of the address was for the president to inform congress of the actual no kidding state of the union, the problems and the challenges, what was going well and what wasn't, and to in essence suggest the legislative agenda for the coming year. Here are the issues, get me some bills to address them, and I'll sign ‘em into law and we can get on with the business of running our country.
Back then, congress wasn't a full time job. Politician wasn't a career. There were no think-tanks and SuperPACs and no ‘round the clock news cycle. The men who made up congress were part time lawmakers. Most of the year they were farmers and industrialists and printers and brewers and lawyers and doctors spread across a vast new country in a time when the fastest form of communication was hand written letters carried in a sack on the back of a mule. And so they needed a periodic update from the nation’s full time leader.
Today? Congress is not only a full time job, it’s practically royalty.
Some senators and representatives have been there for more than forty years, they’ll likely die in office, and they spend far more time in Washington than they do among the people they're supposed to represent. They might as well be dukes and earls and barons. They are surrounded by a sea of minions, fops, toadies, and hangers-on, there are lawyers and lobbyists, clerks and secretaries, a multitude of assistants and a plethora of interns. They're plugged into a vast, vast political machine and an array of entrenched “expertise” coupled to think-tanks and political action committees and various institutes for “strategic studies.” They're immersed in the global information grid so deeply that they might as well be wired directly into the servers with fiber-optic cable.
Like I said last night, if congress doesn't already know the state of the country, an hour of listening to the president sure isn't going to bring them up to speed.
The first State of the Union address was given by George Washington, it was a grand total of 833 words and consisted mostly of ideas for building post roads and Navy ships. Thomas Jefferson didn't bother with a speech, he sent a brief letter to Congress, which was read by a clerk to the assembly – and that started a tradition which lasted for more than a century until Woodrow Wilson came along. Since Wilson, every president has given an annual speech, which in recent decades has predictably devolved into simple political theater. They all put on their best designer duds, the president gets up there and tells America that everything is great but it could be better while the Speaker of the House sits behind him rolling his eyes and making faces like a four-year old in a starched collar stuck in the middle of Sunday sermon, congress claps politely, everybody shakes hands, then they all go outside to talk to the press and get their pictures taken. The next day the press devotes a hundred thousand words to the detailed analysis of the First Lady’s dress.
Then it’s back to doing whatever it was they were doing until next year.
The State of the Union is basically the Golden Globes Award Show of American politics.
Well, that is, until Barack Obama came along, that’s when the State of the Union address became the Republican Grand High Holy Day of Booger Eating Insanity.
Nothing the president said last night was in any way unexpected or out of the ordinary for any president or any State of the Union speech. Economy blah blah Education blah blah Infrastructure blah blah Taxes yadda yadda thanks for coming everybody and don't forget, T-shirts are for sale in the lobby!
What is new, however, is that this congress has decided its mission is to scream in hysterical outrage and shout conspiracy theories in response to everything the president says.
Obama could say, "Hey, you know what? Screw it, you're right. On second thought, I've decided to get rid of Obamacare" and republicans would squint their eyes in suspicious patriotic outrage, furiously wave their little flags, and demand a national single payer healthcare program free to illegal immigrants with one bonus abortion and a deluxe box of Day-Glo pleasure-ribbed cherry-flavored condoms for each preschooler.
They had their rebuttal all set to go – though “rebuttal” is probably the wrong word since it had nothing whatsoever to do with the president’s actual speech and didn’t actually rebut anything he said – same as last year, and the year before, and the year before that. And just like last year they picked the most hardcore nutcase they could find to read it and the most amusing part of this morning's media summaries are those attempting to making some kind of sense from Joni Ernst’s corn-fueled Bachmannesque performance.
Obama said “economy, education, infrastructure, taxes” … and republicans heard “big government anti-Jesus is a comin' fer our little white babies and our guns with his Atomic Negro Ray of Smooth Chocolate Mojo OMFG! Ook! Ook! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, EVERYBODY!”
Today they’re all pissing blood and declaring in various degrees of pumped up patriotic rage their refusal to compromise or cooperate in any way whatsoever.
And that right there – that, right there – is indeed the state of our Union.
For better or for worse, our government is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
It is a reflection of us, we the people of the United States of America.
And the state of our union is thus: we have become a nation of screeching chimps, capering about, teeth bared in fury, throwing handfuls of our own shit at each other.
And I didn’t need either the president or congress to tell me that.
See you next year. Same place. Same time.
President Washington began this tradition in 1790 after reminding the Nation that the destiny of self-government and the ‘preservation of the sacred fire of liberty’ is ‘finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.’ For our friends in the press, who place a high premium on accuracy, let me say: I did not actually hear George Washington say that.
- Ronald Reagan, State of the Union, 1982
You nailed it Jim.ReplyDelete
Absolutely nailed it.
I blame old white people. All the ones older than me that is.ReplyDelete
I resemble that remark! :) But you are spot on for sure.Delete
Love the appendix analogy! It's dead center accurate.ReplyDelete
Heh... I've always said that business men - like the Koch Bros - have more of a "king" mentality than they do along the lines of a "free market" one. I'm actually pretty interested that you describe politicians as Dukes, Barons, or Lords... because who is it that gives such titles but Kings... and who pretty much owns congress, but the very wealthy.ReplyDelete
I'd laugh if it weren't so depressing as our modern democracy is slowly sold off to the highest bidder.
I believe that we reap what we sow, and the quest for wealth is doing the sowing. The actual underlying cause for everything, is directly or indirectly related to our survival instincts. Money is the ultimate in survival. Money equals power and power corrupts.Delete
Aw, c'mon, Jim, I thought Joni Ernst was really sweet, the way she held that same smile during her whole speech. What did interest me was that the best the Republicans could do was have her get up and basically go through her Senate candidate monologue. Oh, yeah, and put in a plug for the Keystone pipeline.ReplyDelete
BTW, I REALLY like some of your descriptions. I found "Republican Grand High Holy Day of Booger-Eating Insanity" particularly amusing! Wish I had your gift for vitriol.
"And the state of our union is thus: we have become a nation of screeching chimps, capering about, teeth bared in fury, throwing handfuls of our own shit at each other."ReplyDelete
Yes. Just that. Sigh.
So spot on. It's showmanship at it's best and worst and does little to actually inform us of the state of the union. Truly, it should go back to a letter to congress and call it good. Thank you, Jim, for making actually laugh out loud at several parts of this post.ReplyDelete
And you've hit the nail on the head. But I do believe we need this theater every year, to expose them for what they are. Boehner looked like was going to explode from the bile building up in his leather'd skin. The rude clapping by the Republicans was only stopped by the President's ad lib about having won twice. And we need to see that Ernst is the best they can do? They need to step up their game, and get to work.ReplyDelete
Perfect summary of the state of the State of The Union address. Although I did enjoy Obama's comeback after the "last campaign" applause. It was worth watching just for that.ReplyDelete
It's just...it's sad. Because, as you say, there were periods of time during which the Congress actually governed, and now they don't talk, they don't listen, they just screech.ReplyDelete
(Infuriating, of course, but mostly sad.)
Being an old white person I respectfully disagree with your statement.
As is frequently the case when I read your work, I couldn't decides whether to laugh or cry; laugh because of your brilliant, witty, and hilarious writing, or cry because of the all-too-true content. As it stands, I'll probably just head home, have a beer, and thank God (and Cthulhu?) that you exist. And that you have minions.ReplyDelete
You're welcome, but I had nothing to do with creating Jim. Even we Old Ones fear and respect him.Delete
The part that makes me the most sad about the whole mess is this: If you are quiet and respectful, use polite language and complete sentences, you are almost universally met with the aforementioned booger-eating, shit-flinging, stark refusal to engage in any form of reasonable or rational discussion or debate. But if you jump up on the tables and fling some of it back, you're a radical reactionary, worthy of even more bile being thrown in your direction, and STILL your ideas will get no traction. I'm Very Tired of the Big Lie and all its bastard stepchildren. And possibly even more tired of being told that the "only" way to have a voice is to donate. If I had funds to donate, I might not feel so strongly that the path we are on is so very misguided! (Though I hope that I have a bit more empathy than that. Suppose I'll have to wait and see if I ever get to find out.) Thank you, for putting words together so eloquently. Much appreciated.ReplyDelete
Gretchen in KS
You are so right. I have basically deleted people from my life just because every political discussion was basically a bullying session. And it always turned into labeling those that do not agree with what said family members thought.Delete
quite a fun read, thanks for the GRIN!ReplyDelete
Maybe the first step to restoration really is getting rid of citizens united.ReplyDelete
No maybe about it, Charlie, that is the essential first step. Once we level that huge bump on the playing field, we can get to work on the rest.Delete
"The original intention of the address was for the president to inform congress of the actual no kidding state of the union, the problems and the challenges, what was going well and what wasn't, and to in essence suggest the legislative agenda for the coming year. Here are the issues, get me some bills to address them, and I'll sign ‘em into law and we can get on with the business of running our country. "ReplyDelete
So it was intended as the replacement for the King's Speech the way the British Parliament does it. Interesting. And yes, that's the kind of SOTU we need. The thing is, the kind of president who would write that kind of SOTU is a rarity.
Not as in hard to find. Every big city has a mayor like that. Someone who just wants to keep the lights on, teh water flowing in and the shit flowing out. The last politician I recall who tried to be POTUS and had that kind of personality was Michael Dukakis. I;d have voted for him. (Just a kid at the time tho.)
I think you were too generous with Congress - reality is that today the Congress aren't like sitting royalty or nobility - that might have been 20 or 30 years ago. Today they are the eunich Grand Vizier, put into place by their corporate masters, held close and told how to act, all the while piling up gobs of cash from "donations" (no "quid pro quo" there folks) and looking expectantly to their next gig pimping for the same corporations as a K Street lobbyist.ReplyDelete
We truly have the best democracy you can buy.
BTW, Reagan was telling the truth. He didn't hear Washington say it. Washington never raised his voice on account of his ill fitting dentures.ReplyDelete
Always chortle when I read statements that describe a history that did not exist; in this case "Back then, congress wasn't a full time job. Politician wasn't a career. There were no think-tanks. Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson ... and the list goes on ... were full time politicians, and some had part time economic endeavors. The pay was pretty lousy at the time but they were of a class of men of the enlightenment.ReplyDelete
The first think tanks was a group such as "The Federalists" better known at this time as the Federalist Papers who sought ratification of the Constitution and right as rain there was a group that were anti-federalist.
Our nation's political history was not and has never been idyllic and we have suffered our fair share of fools and foolish goals. The first that comes to mind is the notion that we were going to jump into an ancient culture and create a Democratic Nation, in a country with a completely different religious environment, no less.
The most I got out of the evening was Joni Ernst throwing in her hat as a Vice-President candidate, taking the slot formerly filled by Sarah Palin ... she's got strong competition for that position in Bobby Jindal who is willing to say just about any foolish thing that comes to mind.
Oh please, Anonymous, you're just arguing semantics. And I never said our country's history was "idyllic."Delete
Dude, you sound like Drax "What percentage of a plan do you have?". You need to open your bandwidth a bit and configure your Stonekettle filter with a grain of salt. Did you think Battleship was a documentary? Cheers, Tommy DDelete
Spot on JimReplyDelete
You had me at "national single payer healthcare program free to illegal immigrants with one bonus abortion and a deluxe box of Day-Glo pleasure-ribbed cherry-flavored condoms for each preschooler" -- had me roaring with laughter. Out loud. With no one home. We don't even have cats anymore. It was embarrassing.ReplyDelete
This year Michigan Gov. Snyder gave his State of the State speech to the Michigan legislature an hour before the State of the Union. My theory is that this was so the Republican governor, Republican State House and Republican State Senate wouldn't have to listen to That Black Man In The White House take in from of Their Congress -- why they were busy doing official state business and such.ReplyDelete
but ole rick managed to get a few digs in at the president and washington - michigan is doing so good he said and washington isn't. and did he mention that $325 million the Michigan general fund is in the hole? yeah, right rick.Delete
After reading the speech and trying to read some of the Republican replies I can only conclude that the President was trying to bring them out of there post election shell. You know the one where they wanted to cooperate and work together blah blah. Well the response and aftermath to the speech have laid bare the fact that the Republican party has gone bat shit insane. All the poo flinging they will do for the next week will do nothing but ensure that Hillary will win in 2016.ReplyDelete
I got stuck on " Atomic Negro Ray of Smooth Chocolate Mojo" but you are right on target as usual. I'll go read the rest now.ReplyDelete
You must be a new minion of Jim'sDelete
Shouldn't surprise anyone that the GOP came out as being against education, let alone it being free-after all, the lack of education by their constituents is how they got into office in the 1st place. An extreme ignorance of science, economics, and history, among other subjects, is damn near a requirement to be a Republicant isn't it?ReplyDelete
Unfortunately, it is not a requirement, but it does help. The only requirement is the ability to fool ones self into thinking that the Republican party has their best interest in mind, and that we truly live in a democracy. If you try to use a rational argument to remind them that we are actually now, functionally, an oligarchy and there is no real capitalism in this country, they hide behind rhetoric. What is worse, the Democratic party isn't any better. Jim stated it best, screaming chimps throwing their own shit at each other.Delete
I can't say I completely disagree with this, but, at the same time, I enjoy watching Obama speak truth to those in power and allowing the whole country to watch them sit on their hands for things like healthcare, childcare, fair wages, equal pay, and so many other obvious issues our country should be taking up as quickly as we take up defense spending and foreign intervention.ReplyDelete
The SOTU works both ways however -- in a Republican presidency (*shudder*) it offers them a chance to speak lies into reality that causes very real and very terrible repercussions across the country.
So, to my mind, it's a double-edged sword. Cuts both ways and the like, but that's the price to be paid. I know I would gladly pay it because Obama's SOTU this year once again, ONCE AGAIN, reminds me why I voted for him (twice!) and why our country so desperately needed him.
I just hope the history books catch up with me in my lifetime.
And what I don't understand is why the Democrats don't make GIFs out of lines from the speech where Obama says "paid sick leave" and "health care for everyone" (etc) while Boner scowls and doesn't applaud with the caption of "but the Republicans don't want this for you" and then play these EVERYWHERE the ignorant red-staters could see them.Delete
I certainly would.
Obama did make a fair number of concrete policy proposals in the speech. Maybe he is trying to return to the old idea of the speech. Unfortunately, the Obama 2015 SOTU proposal I think most likely to make it into law is the one I wish he'd just drop: pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership quickly.ReplyDelete
Many of the proposals seem to be the sort of things that minority parties make: popular ideas that have little chance of passage. Many are fairly liberal, though I don't hear much—anything, really—about financial industry regulation or restraint of the national security state, though that may simply be a lost cause. I wonder if Obama is courting liberals for 2016. If so, he's going to have to bring more than a few flowers after the disapointments of the past eight years.
As you say, I would like us to stop being a nation of screaming chimps, but right-wing propagandists have worked hard to make us into that and continue to do so.
As to nobility, back in 2009 I wrote this imaginary Onion article. It is interesting to see what I got wrong.ReplyDelete
"Washington, DC. Today Senate leaders Reid and McConnell announced that they are changing the name of the US Senate to the House of Lords. 'We feel this change reflects the power of the body and the position of its members.' When asked about the Constitution, the Senate leaders replied, 'The constitution is subordinate to the needs of the nobility.'
"In other news, President Jeb Bush announced he is changing his title to King. The House of Representatives is appealing to the states for military aid."
Instead, of course, the House has become a gerrymandered Republican stronghold, and we are dependent on the Senate to keep them from trashing the country.
Wotta revoltin' development.
Note to self: Do not be drinking hot tea while reading Stonekettle .ReplyDelete
Or at least invest in a spitproof keyboard cover.
Ditto what Curmudgeon said! I'm a new fan of Stonekettle and was drinking my coffee when I began reading this-had to put it down . You are spot on with your assessment of the SOTU circus. "Republican Grand High Holy Day of Booger Eating Insanity" - Lol!!!ReplyDelete
"Consider a congressman, then consider an idiot; ah, but I repeat myself." -- Mark Twain, 1873ReplyDelete
Proof indeed that Some. Things. Never. change.
Nicely written, sir. I can't comment on the speech because I elected to be working on building my own business at the time. I'm amazed, though, at how Indiana, my home state, keeps voting itself Republican leaders who are quick-marching us straight into the 1950s.ReplyDelete
When I'm Supreme Divine Emperor Potentate of the Planet, things are going to be different.
No State of the Planet Address, I hope. I really couldn't listen to all the rebuttals from Uranus.Delete
Sorry, Louis started it...
Excellent as usual, Mr. Wright
I know it's nit-picking, but you've indicated that you take no offense from it, and I certainly intend none.ReplyDelete
You said, "The State of the Union is basically the Golden Globes Award Show of American politics."
The referenced Award has only one globe on it and is called a "Golden Globe Award".
More than one of them would be called "Golden Globe Awards".
Other than that, I got nuthin' to add.....
Well said, good sir. Well said!
Since I threw out my TV some time ago, I heard the SOTU on YouTube and heard no commentary or rebuttal or analysis or Joni Ernst; just watching the facial expressions and body language was enough drama for the evening.ReplyDelete
I witnessed an orange Boehner chewing his lips and playing with his tie while not clapping for anything that would help working Americans, and wondered how any working American could possibly vote for this self-absorbed brat. The disrespect Republicans openly ooze toward the President is incredibly sad. And embarrassing. What kind of message is this sending to our country and its youth, and to the rest of the world?
(And I hope I didn't post twice -- my screen did a weird dance for a few moments)
Put an AMEN on it, brother! Don't know which is the bigger story - the many crazy rebuttals or the deflated footballs.ReplyDelete
I have never heard a better analysis of the State of the Union address. Well done, sir, well done. As a country, we're broken. As citizens, unless we're among the super-rich, we're screwed.ReplyDelete
That Other Jean
Well put, though I might suggest that it doesn't matter what party the President belongs to. Regardless of political affiliation, the opposing side will spew the same vitriolic nonsense after the SOTU.ReplyDelete
A politician is a politician is a politician.
The last SOTU I actually watched or listened to mentioned something about "axis of evil". And everything went so well after that. Tommy DReplyDelete
My wife said it is a little strong, but very true. I said that it is poetry to my ears. Anyone would be hard put, to put it better. Thanks again! What you are doing is very needed.ReplyDelete
"Republican Grand High Holy Day of Booger-Eating Insanity" pretty much covers EVERY SINGLE DAY these days! Great take on the SOTU. They couldn't make him 3/5 of a person, so they offered up FIVE rebuttals - insanity defined! The sad part is that their screeching howler monkey act, while reviled by most, is cheered by far too many.ReplyDelete
I am a firm believer in firm term limits for Congress. If it was good enough for the Presidency, it should be good enough for Congressional seats.ReplyDelete
Senate - Total Limit of 3 - 6 year terms
House - Total Limit of 6 - 2 year terms
Of course, term limits would also require making lobbyists illegal as well as needing the public financing of campaigns.
I have to say the president didn't pull any punches;in fact I would say,he was a real"Atomic Negro Ray of Smooth Chocolate Mojo".ReplyDelete
Wilson starting giving the SOTU himself for 1 simple reason; he was a college prof and apparently loved to hear himself talk.ReplyDelete
I wouldn't have such a problem IF our government (rather, the Congress) was actually of, for, and by the people. These days it's more a government OF clueless morons, FOR Wall Street, lobbyists, and corporations, and BY politicians whose main goals are to add to their bank accounts by any means available, to retain their positions of power, and to put party above the concerns of their constituents. We have no one to blame but ourselves. But mostly those stupid people who insist on voting against their own self-interests or not voting at all. And the politicians have made the most of the opportunity given to them to rule rather than govern. We've created a monster and it will probably take a helluva lot of villagers w/ pitchforks and torches to force a change.ReplyDelete
Pam in PA