NOTE: This post was a live blog that took place before, during and after the State of the Union Address. After the last post, at 10:21, it was closed down, the observations of me and others left to stand on their limited, real-time merits. But comments, on any and all, are still welcome of course. —DM
Like paper underpants, live blogs don't stand the test of time. Here's the sum total of still-salient observations that I made during several hours of live blogging the SOTU blog last year:
On the genre itself: "The State of the Union is just an inferior communication genre, one that could be improved by shortening it to a 15-minute fireside chat about one crucial subject and telling everybody the rest of it's in the PowerPoint deck at whitehouse.gov. That would confound the Republican response, would it not?"
On participating in the convo about SOTU on Twitter: "There used to be another name for the kinds of people who like to spend their time making quips and cracks 140 characters or less: wiseguys. I'm closing the Twitter window—until I start getting bored with the speech and want to know what I think of it."
"Who are these 'children' who are writing the president to ask why their parents can't pay the mortgage? Argh."
"Why is it that only politicians talk about the American spirit? Meanwhile, Americans talk about how half-assed a country this is."
On the Republican response: "An empty cab drove up, and Bob McDonnell got out and gave this speech."
So don't get your hopes up. I've got my eyes and ears open for everything, but as the editor of Vital Speeches of the Day and as a communication commentator and not a political one, what I'm watching and listening for here tonight is the answer to this question:
To what extent have President Obama and his speechwriters achieved what many presidents and speechwriters before them haven't even attempted, but what they have reportedly set out to create:
A coherent communication that mentions actual proposals and programs only in support of one central theme (I'll settle for two or three of them!) and that stands on its own as something that might actually be readable by someone 10, 20, 100 years from now—and understood to be a meaningful picture of the U.S. at this moment in history.
That would be a hell of a precedent to set, would it not? Let's see how it goes.
Pad Thai's not here yet, daughter and wife are tickling each other downstairs and making a joyful yet annoying racket that is, at least, drowning out the dog's kennel cough. Have to pace self on the Merlot so I'm level-headed for Michele Bachmann's response to the Republican response in three or four hours. Frankly, I don't like my chances.
In the Gotham Ghostwriters Tweetchat for speechwriters, I learn that the White House has released excerpts of speech. I don't want to look at the damn things, and ask the speechwriters to enlighten me on why the White House releases them. Meanwhile, I learn by accident that the first points of the speech are "bipartisanship, optimism, resilience of the American people." This makes me not want to watch the goddamn speech at all. If you're going to talk about the optimistic, bipartisan resiliance of the American people, as far as I'm concerned, you have to be willing to compare it to the cloying, bickering cowardice of the Norwegians. Get me more wine.
Thai food is here, and so are two answers to my question about why the White House releases "first points" of the speech. "The WH releases excerpts to send cues to the insider audience, seed the pundit garden, shape the early buzz, etc.," says Gotham Ghostwriters kingpin Dan Gerstein. Though I appreciate its alacrity, his answer makes me feel like a non-insider and only pisses me off further.
And now communicator Shawn Bannon Tweets that "National Journal appears to have obtained and posted full text of tonight's State of the Union." Why couldn't they have done that at noon today? I could have wrapped this up by closing time. As it is, I refuse to read it before I see it. (Though if you're otherwise inclined, Bannon has posted the link in the comments section of my previous post.) These assholes wonder why people call them "elite," while they freely pass stuff around Georgetown that the rest of America has to wait two hours to hear.
I'll admit this: I imagine the general truculence that I bring to the whole State of the Union conversation has partly to do with the fact that just caring about all this at all makes me feel like an old fart—and a square old fart at that.
Watching the cable pundits on the television, but meanwhile, enjoying this banal streaming video of people coming and going between the rows of TV lights at the Capitol at Statuary Hall. Like the CNN pundit panel, it's free of ny content whatsoever, so and it gives me peace to think.
On Fox, Bill O'Reilly is ambushing some PR cornpone from Porter Novelli who came on his show thinking he was going to let her talk boringly about what's going to be in the speech tonight. He, on the other hand, wants to know on behalf of every slack-jawed yokel in America, why on earth the White House would seek the counsel of a PR person. Equally disgusted with each of them, I'm switching back to CNN.
Faithful Vital Speeches correspondent Neil Hrab—a Canadian journalist and speechwriter—explains the leaky White House this way: "So they can influence how the reporters (grateful for the leaks) will write the story—a straight up quid pro quo—but you are neither naive nor an egghead, so you knew this already! :-)" Dear Neil: I was boasting when I called myself an egghead, but I really am naive, because that really did come as an insight to me. This is why I blog this here, because the editor of Vital Speeches may not allow himself to be caught so flatfooted.
And now we have a Brit—that Larry King replacement, on CNN—actually reviewing the State of the Union speech (the whole damned speech) on TV, long before most Americans have had a chance to hear it. Honestly, this whole process is bringing an inner redneck I hardly knew existed.
Live feed of people filing into hall is now getting interesting, because camera man is overheard making remarks about how boring the shot is—"just a bunch of guys in suits"—and I'm hoping he says something obscene or terribly racist or something.
Gotham Ghostwriters' Gerstein tweets excerpts from prepared remarks: "America's 'poised for progress,' call for 'winning the future.' Rhetoric to remember? Or more fodder to forget?" I retort: "I don't know, GG. And we CAN'T know, without the music. 'Here comes the sun, and I say, it's all right.'" Speechwriters, even more than songwriters, should respect the fundamental difference melody and rhythm and moment make! Had Jerry Ford mumbled his way through "ask not," during the 1975 State of the Union Address, there's every good chance we wouldn't remember the line today.
A Facebook post from the mild-mannered graphic designer friend, Buffy Van Huis: "Overworked, undersexed, fat, bitchy, insomniac with a drinking problem. Wait, I thought you wanted MY state of the union."
As Prez enters chamber, a last-minute dip into the general Twitter SOTU convo.
"I wonder if when the Speaker is introduced tonight a rogue Democrat wil yell '"You cry'"
"Jeff Sessions is mincing about the chamber like my gay uncle on a vermouth bender."
"I'm not left-wing or right-wing. I'm middle finger."
Obama, in his gladhanding banter, acknowledges with a laugh that he knows, "I don't need to deliver it now." Everybody "already saw it."
Speaking coach creep: "The president tends to clasp his hands frequently. Would prefer hands at sides as neutral." Got to stop watching Gotham Twitter feed until end of speech.
So far, speech flat as pancake. Any arguments?
Didn't manage to get off Gotham Twitter feed. Some speechwriters there grumble that the speech is missing the traditional line, "The state of the union is ______." I always thought that line was bogus anyway, so I don't miss it.
I think he's trying to make Boeher mist up with all this talk about believing in kids. But Boehner isn't taking the boeht.
Well, Lsis, weigh in on the education section, willya?
Self-described writer, yoga teacher, sports fan and high heel aficionado Kelly Moore has a point when she tweets, "30 minutes and not one word about the wars we're in. Disgrace."
Most admired educator in my life who's not my wife sez re. education secretary, "love the idea of dropping current [No Child Left Behind] and honoring nation-builders….dont know about actual impact of race to the top…too busy actually juggling while on a unicycle up Mt. Springfield's education budget etc."
Never heard a president say he proposed cuts to "things I care deeply about."
Good little line about the airplane and the engine.
Writer/yoga teacher/sporty shoe nut reminds us: "40 min and still no word about our troops or war." I suppose a guy who called for a singular-themed speech can't complain that he didn't include the kitchen sink, but there's a way to work the wars into this theme.
McCain is laughing his ass off at earmarks promise, because he knows it's been a preposterous proposal all along. You can't kid a kidder! Marketing communications guy Paul Snatchko writes, "Veto all bills with earmarks? sounds like 'read my lips, no new taxes!' I had an 'uh-oh' moment…"
You Know Who: "Ok so it too 47 minutes to mention the wars we're in."
This is tiring. (And in the comments section here, writing coach extraordinaire Jeff Harrington is doing a much better job of analyzing the speech than I am.)
Downstairs for a glass of wine, I ask wife Cristie how she's finding the speech. "Ah, boring." During Obama's campaign speeches, she used to prance around the house like James Brown.
Thought bubble over those military guys. "We're not gay!"
Down goes Boehner! Down goes Boehner! Down goes Boehner!
OK, he nailed the dismount, but not a lot points for degree of difficulty. Did he pass the single-theme test? I don't friggin' know. After a State of the Union speech, I never feel like I friggin' know much. And on to Mr. Ryan.
(I used to be a smoker, and as I watch Obama make his way through all those autograph-seeking goons, I want a cigarette for him.)
Eddie Haskell lives. This guy is as big a bedwetter as Bobby Jindall. I'm actually looking forward to Michele Bachmann's show.
What, may I ask, is Ms. Bachmann waiting for? I'm getting into the second bottle.
She's going all Ross Perot on our ass. But why is she talking to really tall guy, standing to my left?
Bachmann's speech reminds me of a speech I read the other day by the Sultaon of Selangor. Utterly incomprehensible, as I'm not its audience, and I don't believe I know a single person who is in its audience. It's like a speech delivered in a country I've never heard of. Really, how can I judge it?
Bringing up a convo from the comments section, between me and veteran PR man Shawn Bannon, who sez, "Opposition party needs to find a better way to respond to the SotU. These zero-energy, short speeches delivered straight into a camera are absolute killers." I reply, "Shawn, if SOTU is a flawed medium, the response to it is a bottomless boat. Always has been. I mean, how do you write a compelling "response" to a series of platitudes you haven't yet seen?" Bannon strategizes, "Honestly, I'd give the president the night as far as prepared remarks go. Issue rapid-response statements by e-mail/tweet while the speech is being delivered. Do stand-up interview responses outside the House chamber or on the steps of the Capitol after the speech. But schedule your prepared response for a day after the SotU and do it in front of a townhall-type crowd. The audience won't be the same, but I think it would be more effective." Couldn't be much less effective.
Winding down the coverage here. A few stray thoughts: Republican Representative Paul Broun of Georgia tweeted during the speech, "Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism. Thank you, Mr. Broun for not shouting that out into the chamber. That's a real improvement. Meanwhile, on CNN, Barbara Boxer says she liked the mixed-up seating arrangements—it seemed to her "I don't know, more grown up." I agree. Huge sections of supposedly thinking people standing and cheering in unison seems to me like gangster stuff, always has. It's not a goddamn football game. Finally, several hundred people stopped by here tonight, and as far as I could tell, not one moron. I'll go to bed feeling pretty good about that. Goodnight.