The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations for State of the Union Addresses Has Got to Stop

I'm as guilty as the worst offender of treating annual State of the Union as beneath contempt, instantly forgettable, and worse.

It was George W. Bush - whose SOTUs were uniformly awful and misguided (cough, cough, Axis of Evil) - who talked about battling the "soft bigotry of low expectations" for minority kids in K-12 education.

But the same standard should apply to State of the Union addresses. Everyone fully expects them to be useless laundry lists of barely connected guaranteed-applause-getters (GAGS) punctuated with shout-outs to jes' plain folks who magically appear in the gallery for this one special night (when is a billionaire prankster in the tradition of Terry Southern's Guy Grand in The Magic Christian going to get a president to note Dick Hertz in one of these things?).

This has got to stop. I'm fond of saying that the tragicomedy of America is that we get the government we deserve.

And we deserve better.

There's nothing stopping a president from actually giving a substantive speech for the State of the Union (or even forgoing a performed speech altogether) rather than clearing out his office closet for every rag-tag idea that's been gathering dust. And stop with the least-convincing soft-feature anecdotes this side of an NBC Olympics broadcast. 

President Obama's speech last night was genuinely terrible, packed with empty boasts, fantasy policy prescriptions, and outright falsehoods. That doesn't make it stand out as a State of the Union address, it just makes it the same as all the other ones we struggle to recall from years and presidents past. If Obama really wanted to lead in a positive way, he could use the next three SOTUs to actually start a discussion about a single issue or topic - immigration, foreign policy, whatever - and then follow that up by trying to build a consensus in Congress and across the country. That sort of speech would not only be worth turning on but actually worth listening to.

Until that happens, Cafe Hayek's Don Boudreaux is right to characterize SOTUs as "political vaudevillainism" and, I fear, to tune out from such spectacles.

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  • ||

    Mike Hunt deserves a shout-out.

  • ||

    I'm as guilty as the worst offender of treating annual State of the Union as beneath contempt, instantly forgettable, and worse.

    Guilty? I'm proud of it.

  • ||

    Being guilty is not the same as feeling guilty.

    I'm no longer proud of my cynicism. Just depressed to be part of such a miserable political system which I see as being ultimately unavoidable due to the nature of man.

  • flye||

    Instantly forgettable? Then why am I still fueling my car with with switchgrass?

  • Plisade||

    I don't recall the exact quotes, but generally speaking, what I find most annoying about SOTU is when Obama's speaking about what businesses need to do - as if we're not already doing such things - in his arrogant, smirky way. We in the real business world already know success takes teamwork, already don't care about race, already focus on work ethic over gender and sexual orientation. To me, it's laughable when he talks of such things. It's like he's just heard about these magical concepts and assumes corporate Murika is too dumb/greedy to know/care about them without da gubmint, or to implement them unless at the point of his thugs' guns.

  • wareagle||

    clearly, you need reminding: you didn't build that.

    /derp

  • Sevo||

    And I'll bet you even save energy, too!

  • Plisade||

    Pff, don't you know it's in corporations' best interest to waste money on inefficient energy because we're so greedy and profit-oriented?

  • Sevo||

    Hey, I turn on the furnace on 80* days and then start the AC just for the fun of it!

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The first five minutes of his speech he praised entreprenuers and business/workers.

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug|1.29.14 @ 10:33AM|#
    "The first five minutes of his speech he praised entreprenuers and business/workers."

    Yeah, slimeball, he lied for the first 5 minutes, too.
    Go fuck your daddy.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans, today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it and did her part to lift America's graduation rate to its highest levels in more than three decades.

    An entrepreneur flipped on the lights in her tech startup and did her part to add to the more than 8 million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years. (Applause.)

    An autoworker fine-tuned some of the best, most fuel-efficient cars in the world and did his part to help America wean itself off foreign oil.

    A farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history.

    A rural doctor gave a young child the first prescription to treat asthma that his mother could afford. (Applause.) A man took the bus home from the graveyard shift, bone-tired but dreaming big dreams for his son. And in tight-knit communities all across America, fathers and mothers will tuck in their kids, put an arm around their spouse, remember fallen comrades and give thanks for being home from a war that after twelve long years is finally coming to an end. (Applause.)

    Just like waving the flag! No wonder the GOP hates him so much.

  • Plisade||

    "...did his/her part..."

    Ok, that is not praising entrepreneurship; that is implying that the voluntary associations of the private sector are really duties of good little minions of the state.

    Now if he had cited those examples and said, "Look at these people and what they were able to accomplish without any coercion from the state, without any corporate cronyism, without any lobbying of congress for laws mandating their product be used by citizens who don't want or need it..." then I'd call that praise rather than an affirmation of servitude.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    We need to invite washed up 70s rockers - and have them play.

  • Sevo||

    Behind a pay wall, but the SF Chron this morning has Ronstadt claiming 'we all got our politics from Pete Seger'.
    Yeah, you can tell.

  • Rich||

    How about resurrecting the Homeland Security Advisory System for the State Of The Union? Just change "Terrorist Attacks" to "National Self-Destruction" or something like that. Flash the color and the "address" is over in three seconds. Well, three minutes if you count the applause.

  • Espantapajaros||

    It is just a speech wrapped in a pageantry as old as the republic. Let's not dogpile lofty expectations on the rhetoric of a mere mortal. This is like the Emmys for the Beltway -- it's their chance to dress fancy, duck into a little bubble, and pat themselves on the back while the rest of us laugh at them for being Brooks Brothered fops.

    Works for me.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    If Obama really wanted to lead in a positive way, he could use the next three SOTUs to actually start a discussion about a single issue or topic - immigration, foreign policy, whatever - and then follow that up by trying to build a consensus in Congress and across the country.

    How about they just stick to a topic like...I don't know...the state of the union?

  • UnCivilServant||

    Because when your policies have ruined it, the last thing you want to talk about is the real state of the union.

  • thom||

    I didn't watch the speech-just skimmed through the text-but did he actually update Congress on the state of the union? It didn't seem like it.

  • Sevo||

    ..."If Obama really wanted to lead in a positive way,"...

    Hey, a little humor in the morning starts the day off right!

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Even more than economic meltdown, America’s 21st century has been defined by unfocused and ill-considered elective wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Obama is still dealing with the aftershocks of the above. The deficit/debt (he even noted that he has halved the deficit), UE, the LFP rate, the great credit crash and pullback, m - he really got handed worst pile of shit since FDR.

    But we're coming back, baby!

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug|1.29.14 @ 10:30AM|#
    "Even more than economic meltdown, America’s 21st century has been defined by unfocused and ill-considered elective wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Obama is still dealing with the aftershocks of the above"

    5 years in and he's still dealing with the aftershocks? So he's totally incompetent to take the position of Commander in Chief? Is that your point?
    Doesn't that constant spinning make you dizzy?
    Go fuck your daddy.

  • MJGreen||

    The deficit/debt (he even noted that he has halved the deficit)

    So is he responsible for the sequester, or not? Back and forth, back and forth.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    The first five minutes of his speech he praised entreprenuers and business/workers.

    Vacuous platitudes from a dummy who has no discernible understanding of wealth creation don't impress me.

  • Dr. Frankenstien||

    packed with empty boasts, fantasy policy prescriptions, and outright falsehoods.

    I'll Godwin this right now. Didn't Obama come off a little like Hitler in his bunker issuing commands to non-existent units.

  • Sevo||

    Some people still cared what Hitler said, but close.

  • Drake||

    All I hear when he speaks now is the rhythm. 5 beats up, 3 beats down. Strawman up, knock him down. Once in a while he goes full southern preacher and shouts a meaningless platitude like it was a divine revelation. Then the sheep all bah and applaud.

  • shortviking||

    I'd seriously consider voting for anyone who pledges to not give any state of the union speeches and only sends a letter to congress as required by the constitution.

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