State of the Union, 2007
It felt much more communitarian, for one thing. I wasn't alone in my room, concentrating on the words emerging from a radio feed; I was sitting in a living room with friends, eating vegetables and dip, drinking beer. I got to see the visual reactions of politicians I admire to the words of a President I loathe. These cuts away made the speech seem more like an event--a melodrama or a sports game--and my friends and I booed or cheered at our cues.
One thing I lost in the switch of medium was my ability to gauge the President's mood and sincerity by his intonation. Listening on the radio, when his voice is the only information, I pay attention to his wandering accent, which tends to be folksiest when he's confident in a simple message, more northeastern and defensive when he's reciting specific details.
The television distracted me from those speech patterns. Instead, I kept looking at Pelosi's nervous mouth, Cheney's apparent leg-discomfort, and Bush's occasional weird half-smile. When the camera cut away to celebrity politicians, I noticed how terrible the men looked without their studio makeup. John McCain looked particularly bad on the CNN feed; somebody should have told him not to wear that awful greenish gold tie with his scoured pink complexion (the video here is slightly more flattering). And instead of listening to the speech and evaluating its words, I was drawn into the game of watching for who clapped for what and for how long and did they stand.
On the substance of the speech, I don't have that much to say. Bush's health insurance proposal is going precisely nowhere (read Ezra Klein for a more in-depth evaluation of it). His declarations of intent towards energy independance aren't very persuasive, given his track record of lovely words and no action. Thanks for saying the words "global climate change," though. There were a fair number of ominous references to Iran, but, well, at least he didn't declare war, which is something.
James Webb's response for the Democratic Party was mostly very good. The opening bit about the founding of Jamestown struck me as unnecessary and just, well, confusing, but since the themes of the speech were tradition and compromise and continuity, I suppose Jamestown fits in there. That concluding line--"If he does not [take the right kind of action], we will be showing him the way"--was great: clear, decisive, and just a little menacing.