I watched the State of the Union on Tuesday, and I don’t care what anybody says: I thought Biden did a stupendous job. Emotional. Passionate. Animated. If only the Leader of the Free World hadn’t spent so much time trying to upstage him. As I see it, the Vice President even provided an important service with his mugging and ministrations; that is, if anyone happened to be watching with the sound off. (Somewhere in South Africa, there’s a fake sign language interpreter saying, “Man, that guy is good.”)
The bone I have to pick is with the President’s address. Not the whole thing, mind you, which I thought was as eloquent and stirring as any SOTU can be; you try making a laundry list sound captivating, as chief speechwriters Jon Favreau and Cody Keenan have done for years. Nor do I make the unreasonable demand, as some have, that the president should have promised executive swashbuckling with his pen on every issue—immigration reform, gay marriage, deporting Bieber.
But there was one sentence I took issue with.
It wasn’t this one: “My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do.” I have no problem with that sentiment. Mainly because it is, as my annoying college roommate would term it, a tautology. It proves itself. After all, one of the things we do that no other country does is tell ourselves that no other country does what we do. So there. Q.E.D.
What’s more, the president’s address isn’t just generic nationalistic boosterism on President Obama’s part; it is a constitutional requirement. Article II, Section 3 of our nation’s founding charter insists that the president “shall from time to time give to the congress information on the state of the union.” And the information this year, just as it has been in the past few decades? Never mind what you’ve heard about the United States losing its standing in the world. We’re #1! We’re #1! We’re #1!
So that’s not the sentence that bothers me. Nor is it this one: “On every issue, the world turns to us.” Although this week I can see how some might not be so sure which issues the president was referring to: How to deal with troublemaking Canadian teen idols? How to abandon your car on an Atlanta highway? How to threaten a New York City reporter?
For specific, admissible evidence that we’re #1, the president rightly pointed to one issue above all others: Our unique commitment to the “inherent dignity” and “equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation.” We are pretty darn good at that, and on Tuesday night the assembled congresspersons registered their bipartisan pride and approval. Hell, there was a moment when I almost expected Biden to unsheath a giant, rainbow-colored “WE’RE #1” foam finger. (He woulda if he coulda, you just know it.)
Just think how memorable it would have been had the president made an actualend-run around Congress on Tuesday night. That would have made the SOTU highlight reels for centuries to come.
As a fan of the earnest sentiment and the well-turned phrase, I also won’t quibble with the odd logic of the president’s declaration of absolute superiority—because we believe no one is better than anyone else, we’re better than everyone else. According to my annoying college roommate, that’s a self-contradiction. I don’t mind that either.
But then came this, speaking of that commitment to equality:
“And next week,” the President added, “the world will see one expression of that commitment when Team USA marches the red, white and blue into the Olympic stadium and brings home the gold!”
In other words: USA! USA! USA! Do you believe in moral-cles?!
Why do I find that sentence so irksome? Don’t you see it? It’s right there in the first few words: “Next week.” Next week?!
The Olympics are, like, five days away! But we’re #1 right now! Surely the president must realize not only that there’s something we do that no other country does, but that we do it this very afternoon. That the world “turns to us”—and “turns on FOX”—at 6:30 Eastern?
So my question for the president is simple: AREN’T YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?!
The television ratings for your speech were the lowest in 14 years. Well, no wonder. You could have made a few easy play calls that would have guaranteed some easy yardage:
· First off, the title. SOTU 2014? Why not “Super Speech MMXIV”? Branding is everything. And Roman Numerals make us feel like gladiators.
· You could have called an audible, just to make sure we were listening. And just think how the senator from Nebraska would have cheered if you had screamed “Omaha!” at least once? Everyone likes a shout-out.
· Where were the commercials? You know the Republicans would have had commercials. That’s why Boehner is always covered in Dorito dust.
· You’ve still got bipartisan aspirations, don’t you? Would it have killed you to let Clint Eastwood to make an appearance? (The Clint who squints and announces “it’s halftime in America,” I mean. Not the Clint who rambles and talks to furniture.)
· Finally, I concede the genius of your announcement that from here on out you are gonna attempt an end-run around Congress—your version of a Hail Mary as the clock ticks to zero. But just think how memorable it would have been had you made an actual end-run on Tuesday night. If you had just picked up your speech, tucked it into your chest, Heismaned your way past Ted Cruz, and then done a Victor Cruz salsa dance with the House Sergeant at Arms. That would have made the SOTU highlight reels for centuries to come.
But no matter. What’s past is past. In a matter of hours, long before the opening ceremonies in Sochi, we will revel in the Super Bowl in Jersey—a globe-dominating, uniquely American-centric sporting extravaganza that would happily call itself the World Bowl if only the World Series hadn’t beaten it to the punch.
And the best part is, unlike the Olympics, we already know that a U.S. team will bring home the gold.