Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Union, 2007

This is the first time I've watched the State of the Union address on television in my memory. I've always paid attention to them, either reading the transcript or listening to them on the radio, but actually sitting down to observe the kabuki rituals of our national politics was a different experience.

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.

8 Comments:

Blogger rilkefan:

I remember watching Clinton in I think '96 with my roommate and semi-roommate. The latter said something about Clinton being stupid or the speech being nothing but lies (this from a left perspective I guess). This led to a row.

Bet he voted for Nader.

1/24/2007 07:18:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

Another great TV moment was watching the first 2004 debate between Bush and Kerry with the entire faculty of my department. A lot of caustic Brits and cynical Marxians in the room, being very funny.

To my eternal shame, I watched the 2000 debates between Bush and Gore and allowed the TV to get the better of me. I had spent the year before abroad, reading about Gore in translation, in policy papers, in bullet points; he sounded pretty damned good.

And then I saw him sigh and roll his eyes and explain his ideas as though we were all idiots and generally just act like an asshole. I started to look into the Green arguments about the electoral college and the 5% popular vote, and, well, I'm sorry.

1/24/2007 07:57:00 PM  
Anonymous I don't pay:

I seldom regret not taking in the full TV experience of national presentations, but have somehow watched all the debates. When I watched most of the famous debates—I saw 1960 but don't remember it—in 76, 80, 84, 88, 92, 00, and 04, I understood the consensus reactions but often disagreed, for myself, mostly about who came off well. That bit on the thread today about how people didn't trust Kerry is a good example: I understand where that comes from but I think it's disgraceful.

1/24/2007 11:16:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I *love* watching the televised debates, even after my embarrasment at having been dissuaded from supporting a good candidate in 2000.

Disgraceful is pretty strong. Kerry did great in the 2004 debates. I thought his campaign made some mistakes, like emphasizing Kerry's military service at the convention, not responding to the Swift Boat ads, not calling out the personal smearers of Kerry and his family, not calling the President a liar. These were mistakes of high-mindedness and naivete, which in bitter retrospect can seem the effects of arrogance.

That AUMF vote was always going to be deadly, though--and Clinton is going to have to be brutal about explaining it, if her campaign is to have a chance.

Kerry wasn't able to take Gore's path of simply disappearing after the election. He's an active senator, now--and likely forever--a celebrity. Every time he shows up, he reminds us of our 2004 loss. If he sticks around, as Edward Kennedy did after his disappointment, maybe his persona will take on a new projected identity, in time.

1/24/2007 11:42:00 PM  
Anonymous I don't pay:

I don't know if you saw it, but I had a personal, visceral reaction to the Ira Glass piece. That's where that came from. Your assessment of Kerry is good and fair, about the best thing about it I've read all day.

I'm hoping to hear about work tomorrow; as part of a resolution I made with myself, kind of pointless since I've returned to commenting but there it is, I'll read the piece about the sublime in celebration. It's a promise I made myself at a low ebb.

1/24/2007 11:49:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I'm flattered that you incorporated it into a resolution! It was always intended to be a fun and easy piece, but I'd never imagined it as anyone's celebration. Anyone else's, I mean. I hope you enjoy it, but more, I hope you get good news, or barring that, that you find some clarity and hope.

The Ira Glass piece is troublesome. I heard it over the radio when it was first produced, and it almost shocked me, yet was strangely comforting. I'm not the only person to harbor irrational hatred toward the man who personifies my disappointment. Hanging onto that disappointment, projecting it backwards onto Kerry before his candidacy, using it to impeach Kerry's general character, all that hints at internalized abuse.

1/25/2007 12:16:00 AM  
Anonymous I don't pay:

Wow, internalized abuse. And all I was thinking was tweaking a nose, or nuggies, or slapping with a hat like a vaudville comedian.

1/25/2007 12:20:00 AM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I didn't mean to be too terribly dramatic. Still, the political situation for even moderate leftists in 2001-04 was awful, terrifying, and utterly paralyzing--and the more so the more attention you were paying.

1/25/2007 12:41:00 AM  

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