Last night, millions of Americans watched President Obama deliver his annual State of the Union address. During Obama’s presidency, on average about 40 million folks have tuned in each year, observing the height of melodrama in American politics. From the operatic introductory call from the sergeant-at-arms right down to the incessant standing ovations on one side of the U.S. House chamber, the affair is one big fête enthralling drama queens and politicos alike.
After all, absent rancor and vapid rhetoric, what is the fourth estate going to babble on about? Actual news?
It’s our own commercial-free melodrama. Though, during Obama’s speech, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) seemed to play tragedy to Vice President Joe Biden’s comedy. The Democratic applause prompts were led by Biden’s expressions, the Republican chill by Boehner’s. It took the speaker discreetly blowing his nose to remind me that he was, in fact, a living organism and not a piece of the wooden structure behind him.
Indeed, the stone-cold silent treatment Republicans afforded the president started to get absurd rather quickly. Outside of reluctantly responding to the president’s jingoistic platitudes about supporting the troops and how great and strong a nation the United States truly is, the Grand Ol’ Party looked more like 14-year-old me during geometry class than grown leaders of 300 million people.
Then again, I can’t blame Republicans alone for acting like teenagers who “literally can’t even.” During the presidency of George W. Bush, a Republican, Democrats did the same thing. And, last night, both parties deserve vociferous criticism for enthusiastically applauding when Obama denounced anti-semitism while not applauding even tepidly when he similarly denounced Islamophobia.
Still, President Obama succeeded in creating a grand vision of respect for science, ostentatious space exploration, universal community college, and what he calls “middle-class economics.” I was pleasantly surprised by the apparent specifics of his vision, in fact, though he certainly followed through on his promise not to outline a specific laundry list. I only found myself praying for a cable outage a few times during the hour as opposed to every 30 seconds as in years past.
The speech was overall just some man issuing platitudes about vague philosophies that are specifically meaningless. Don’t get me wrong: I agreed with everything President Obama said, which makes sense: I voted for him twice.
After Republicans applauded the fact that Obama doesn’t have any more campaigns to run, and Obama pithily pointed out, “I know, because I won both of them,” political junkies took to social media to offer salve for their sick burn. I even used emoticons and all-caps in my tweets. And, the wheel spun ‘round and ‘round.
That playful jab was refreshing, though: It showed Obama’s humanity. Being an actual human being with a non-plastic face or heart is a rarity for most American politicians, men and women terrified of doing or saying the wrong thing to the point that they are paralyzed in vague mumbo jumbo about patriotism.
Usually when they do say something that exposes their humanity, it’s odious. For instance, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) called a guest of the president and first lady a “deportable.” Clearly, the Midwestern Republican is a very well-adjusted, happy person.
Then again, you can’t blame King for his conduct unbecoming a human person. Our politics has become, by default, a masturbatory exercise for self-aggrandizing narcissists: Aside from getting elected, the U.S. Congress does little else.
In tragicomically dueling headlines, The Huffington Post reported in 2012, “112th Congress Set To Become Most Unproductive Since 1940s.” In 2013, the same outlet reported, “113th Congress On Pace To Be Least Productive In Modern History.” And, in 2014, The Hill updated America on the 113th Congress: “Historically unproductive Congress ends.”
It seems that the U.S. Congress literally can’t even work, too.
As a reminder, American taxpayers subsidize the workless welfare queen existence each member of the U.S. Congress to the tune of at least $174,000 annually. Obama brought this up last night, insisting that if Congress refused to raise the minimum wage, they should try living on the paltry rate themselves. This, naturally, led the tan man to stay seated and look sad while his Democratic counterparts stood and enthusiastically applauded.
And the theater continued.
But, we’re turning the page, said the president. It’s time to move ahead and actually pay attention to facts, he insisted. Won’t somebody think of the children? he implied.
To respond to Obama’s controversial call for Congress to actually do something, the Republicans presented Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). Hailing from the same state as the thoughtful Steve King, Ernst talked in meaningless rhetorical flourishes equal to Obama’s about biscuit lines at Hardee’s and bread bags on her shoes.
Of course, the hashtag #breadbags has spread like wildfire. There’s a respectable component to Ernst’s bootstrap, folksy appeal, though. And, it’s one that ironically mirrors Obama’s own journey in pursuit of the American Dream.
Don’t tell anyone that Republicans and Democrats are both groups of human beings, though. It goes contrary to conventional wisdom, and we’re supposed to hate each other and call each other names. Besides, what would we talk about if we actually started getting along and working together?