I suppose it’s still possible for a president to give a boffo State of the Union address and thereby boost his popularity, but much conspires against experiencing such success. The biggest headwind is the fact that, these days, Congress isn’t just the audience, it is an active participant.
The problem begins before the president even enters, when the cameras show Congressmen and Senators milling around. Since Congress is hugely unpopular with Americans, this early vibe is negative.
Next, as the president enters, he must glad-hand our would-be solons, many of whom have arrived hours early to get a “rail” seat. It’s as if they are teen-age girls have queued up to touch a rock star.
But the worst part of the spectacle is reserved for the speech itself. That’s when one side makes a show of giving the president repeated standing ovations, while the other side for the most part makes a show of not doing so. Do our elected representatives have any idea how juvenile this looks, how much it detracts from their appearance as serious legislators, and how much it prolongs the speech, to the president’s detriment?
The president isn’t directly responsible for this behavior, but he is demeaned by the spectacle, And, since these speeches seem to invite, if not beg for, the applause, the president can fairly be viewed as an accomplice.
Would it be too audacious for a president to begin his speech by requesting that the audience limit its applause and not stand up during the speech? Surely, there are points to be scored by telling the members of an unpopular institution to behave like adults.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill
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