The New York Times has this quote, the first part of which I remember from last night, but the last, and more remarkable part, I somehow didn't catch:
“It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency, that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better,” Mr. Obama said, adding that “a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide.”
It'll be interesting, reading Obama's memoir, to see him elaborate on that point, listing the ways Lincoln and Roosevelt dealt with hyper-partisan environments, and speculating on how he might have done it better. And it'll be interesting to see if Lyndon Johnson comes into it.
Ultimately, though, my wife asked me in the cold and sober light of this morning what I thought of the speech and it was, "No great shakes." As always with legacies, though, I guess we'll know more next year and the year after and the year after that how significant this speech was, when succeeding presidents either revert to the old laundry list, or don't.
You know I'll be watching.
Thanks to everybody who watched with me last night. Fun as always.
Another speechwriter who I admire: "I don't think it sailed as high as he wanted, but he was definitely going for something different, and I admire that." He's right. It was structured differently, and far more coherently than any other SOTU I know of. It was basically four items, rather than 74 and it was thematic rather than agenda-based. Still, CNN's dumbness was more fun, as usual. My pal has arrived, and helped himself to the gin. Can anybody tell me I've missed something important tonight? Weigh in in the comments, and I'll elevate what you say right here to the top. But hurry! I'm thirsty!
This sustained tone of exasperation makes me see my favorite president of all time through the eyes of his enemies, who find him condescending. (If they weren't so insecure, they'd get over it.)
The rancor and suspicion has gotten worse instead of better, he acknowledges. "But this cannot be my task or any president's task alone. … If we want a better politics … we have to change the system to reflect our better selves." Against district gerrymandering. For reducing influence of money in politics. Have to make it easier to vote, not harder.
Tonight it's Exasperated Obama. I'm afraid he's just about had it with us. And I know Michelle has. And it looks like we're dancing on Sasha's and Malia's last nerves too.
He does seem fierce and serious on the ISIL issue, and in defending his point of view on it.
Level set! "means 'get everyone on the same page' or 'bring everyone up to speed' so they all have the same basic understanding of a situation or project." New one for me.
See, I would never live blog a speech, which is a single sustained piece of communication the very point of which is sitting still and listening all the way through before flapping your yap. But the SOTU is never a speech—was never a speech, and, despite my hopeful imbecilities of this very morning, probably never will be a speech.
Ground control to Uncle Joe!
They might have run out of shit to say.
Prominent speechwriter Mike Long, a few minutes ago on Facebook: "I WOULDN'T WATCH SOTU unless you paid me, and well. No SOTU from either party's president has ever made a lick of difference in the history of the world, and I mean that literally. The speech is always just rhetorical preening and list-making, there has never been an exception to this, and the words are forgotten in hours if they are remembered at all. Every year I tell speechwriters who ask: Never have so many carried on so much about so little of interest to so few. SOTU ain't how policy gets made, or legacies, or anything else. It's so mid-level bureaucrats in soulless departments across DC can brag on Wednesday how their boss's boss's half-a-line made it to the final draft."
I can't tell if Paul Ryan is smirking at the speech, or having a filthy sexual fantasy.
How do we give everyone a fair shot? How do we make technology work for us and not against us? How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policemen? How do we make our politics reflect what's best in us, and not what's worst? OK, that's a pretty big agenda for a speech.
If you're trying to keep your speech on rhythm, don't bring up veterans!
So grateful he's not going to give a speech about the need for kids to learn computer code.
An opening joke! Can't remember. Is this as novel as it seems?
As the president makes his way down, CNN debates about whether "the state of the union is strong," as the president almost inevitably has to say, or whether "the state of the union is a mess," as the president's political enemies almost inevitably have to say. If you're a patriarch or a matriarch, and someone asks you about "the state of your family," how bad does it have to be before you'll say it's "a mess." Or really, before you'll say it's anything but "strong"?
And the dumbness continues (I'm not complaining. CNN's dumbness is my favorite part of the SOTU.) CNN has the "instant digital dial test," by which we can weigh in on where we agreed and where we disagreed with the speech. Is there a button to indicate (without our spouses seeing) that we've check out of the speech altogether and are having sexual fantasies?
You know, one of the underreported reasons people hate President Obama is that he thinks he's cool. He walks like he thinks he's cool, he talks like he thinks he's cool, he smiles like he thinks he's cool. A lot of people dislike people who like themselves, and hate people who love themselves. For a country that seems obsessed with self-esteem in children, we sure don't like it when we see it in adults. And that, in my mind, is just as counterproductive in day-to-day life as racism.
As a speechwriter dude, I really shouldn't be as continuously gobsmacked as I am—because being gobsmacked means being ignorant—about how these speechwriters come up with this many presidential speechwritery words without simply running out of SHIT TO SAY. But gobsmacked I am.
I do love staring at those green White House doors.
Do you think the "designated survivor"—the cabinet member who doesn't attend the SOTU in case the whole shithouse goes up in flames—feels "designated survivor's guilt" as he or she eats pad thai, chugs beer and binges on House of Cards?
Another very good question, maybe not of the moment but very much of the election year was asked by that horrible little twit on MSNBC, I can't remember his name: "How powerful is the most powerful man in the world?"
Why are white women angry? Why is former John McCain campaign director Steve Schmidt angry at President Obama for not remarking on the 10 captured sailors during a speech he won't deliver for 40 minutes?
On C-SPAN, we learn that President Clinton gave the longest SOTU, at 9,000 words, in 1995. (Jesus!) President Obama's usually clock in at 6,000. And George Washington delivered the shortest one ever, at 1,000. I vote that next year, we try the State of the Union Haiku.
The question of the hour: It bad to think about your legacy? I think people who live with their legacy in mind probably live better than people who don't. So why would it be bad to govern with your legacy in mind? A lot of people seem to think it is, and I can't quite figure out why. Talk to me.
I have a friend coming in tonight, right around the end of the SOTU. I will not be live-blogging the Republican response, about which I usually have precious little constructive stuff to say anyway. As I noted last year, "I always time my buzz perfectly for the SOTU, but not quite right for the GOP response. So I have a hard time listening to it, and my criticisms aren't terribly substantive. In 2010 I wrote, 'An empty cab drove up, and Bob McDonnell got out and gave this speech.' In 2011, I compared Paul Ryan to Eddie Haskell and called him a 'bedwetter.' And in 2012, I presciently observed, 'The water shortage was the only thing anyone will ever remember from the Rubio speech.'" I promise to be equally drunk and dispirited while writing the Democratic response, next time a Republican is president.
CNN.com headline: "State of the Union: Barack Obama to sell optimism to nervous nation." Whatever the reality, that beats selling nervousness, as some pols have done, to an optimistic nation.
One should never enter the Star Wars bar of public comments on political articles, but when it's your own article, the temptation is overpowering. Here's the awesomest comment on my Atlantic piece today on the SOTU: "I will watch reruns," says a Joe Clinton, "instead of that crazy queer neeger." Why? Because "only blacks, jews and kweers watch him anymore."
Hillary Clinton is being interviewed on CNN. She is boring. This is going to be a problem, as it always is when you're trying to communicate with someone who is boring. It's hard to listen, and feeling guilty about not listening doesn't do any good!
Chris Matthews asks a white pollster I've never seen, "Why are white women angry?" How much am I really supposed to care what the guy says?
And the dumbness begins. MSNBC shares a pol that shows most Americans don't think the American dream is alive and well. Was there any moment in American history when most Americans would have answered otherwise? The best day of the 1950s, perhaps? And if you only called whites? As Carlin said twenty years ago, it's called the American dream "because you have to fuckin' asleep to believe it."
Iran captures U.S. soldiers, right before the SOTU? Reminds me of old British political saw, where the pol was asked what's the hardest part of governing. "Events, dear boy. Events." Goddamn! Even before I get the wine open, I'm switching to gin.
7:05 p.m. Eastern
The White House and NBC collaborated in the annual speechwriter bone-throwing/behind-the-scenes-coverage deal, and this time it was a video in addition to a making-of-the-SOTU story. Cody Keenan seems like a guy you could have a beer with—and a guy who could handle the next nine, too.
It's President Obama's last State of the Union Address. I'm the editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, and the executive director of the Professional Speechwriters Association. I have a piece in TheAtlantic.com on the SOTU today, for God's sake. Children look up to me! So this year for the annual SOTU live blog, we've gotta keep this guy under wraps.
This year, it's wine only.
See you here at about 7:30 Eastern.