I’ve been thinking more about the State of the Union today. What I’m about to say has nothing to do with rating what Obama actually said in terms of how good his speech was given the event. I am just struck by what a strange piece of theater the entire event is. It’s almost an unreality where everyone is trapped playing rolls that adhere to not only whatever their party is supposed to believe, but also as to what Americans are supposed to believe.
Any president must touch upon fundamental American principles, or if not they will surely be tarred and feathered. They must make clear that they are not an enemy of business, that they support the military, that God will bless America, etc. But often these things are brought up in a way that is devoid of substance. They are often just things to touch upon to communicate some kind of vague patriotism that in and of itself has no meaning. It’s not really even the president’s fault. Take Obama for instance. Remember how much flak he caught because he didn’t wear an American flag pin? He sure had his flag pin on last night. He learned the hard way that you have to make certain basic gestures, however meaningless, or the rest of what you say will probably be ignored because of some fake controversy. A president could go to church every day and if they forgot to say God bless America at the end there would probably be a shit storm. There is so much emphasis put on the appearance of everything that often substance and reality are ignored.
The whole applause thing is also pretty bizarre. If the military or the hard working American is brought up in any context, again even one devoid of any kind of deeper meaning, all spectators must applaud for fear of looking Un-American if they don’t. My point is not any kind of subversive one, that someone that works hard, or that someone that puts there life on the line shouldn’t be acknowledged in some way, but that a lot of this applause by politicians is nothing more than cheap lip service to these people.
Let’s examine the applause for the injured serviceman last night. I completely sympathize with what happened to him. That would be a horrible thing to go through. It was also great to see someone that struggled get some kind of acknowledgment for that struggle. On the other hand, the people that were applauding him were the very ones that sent him out on his tenth deployment and into a senseless war that lead to his injury. I’m glad he got applause, but it would have even better if they had pulled him out of that war earlier as it has been a war without an objective for a long time.
You may think I’m being cynical or that I’m nitpicking. But the problem as I see it as that all of the theater actually does a disservice to us. It actually takes time and focus away from having a substantive discussion as to what is really going on. It takes our eye off of the ball. I think speeches are important. I believe in words or I would not be writing this blog. I’m also aware that behind any words in a political speech there needs to be action. A speech is a good way to motivate people and get the ball rolling, but it is only a beginning. All in all, given the historical context of the State of the Union, I thought Obama actually did a decent job. But within that context there are senseless rituals and empty inbuilt rhetoric that do their part in making the truth just a little harder to find. Everyone always says that they want politicians that are honest, but then we make them take the stage with a script that is part myth.