SOTU Preview: The State of the Union Address Is Decadent and Depraved – Huffington Post

Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2015

When it comes to Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, I have a crystal ball. Gather for a gander.

As editor of Vital Speeches of the Day magazine, an 81-year-old monthly collection of the best American rhetoric, I’ve live-blogged every one of President Obama’s five previous State of the Union Addresses.

But I haven’t blogged the SOTU at the Vital Speeches website, or at the website of the Professional Speechwriters Association.

Why? Because these institutions have class, and I don’t blog the SOTU sober — or even sane.

See, the SOTU isn’t primarily about speechwriting, or even communication. It’s about Washington code-making and code-breaking, a process that’s by turns amusing, enraging and soul-straining.

So I live-blog the SOTU at my personal blog, Writing Boots.

And I drink.

Based on what’s happened every year I’ve covered the SOTU, here’s what I know will happen this year, no matter how groundbreaking everyone claims this one’s it’s going to be.

1. Even if it’s a great State of the Union Address — assuming that’s possible — the State of the Union Address will be a terrible speech.

To deride SOTU as a “laundry list” is to know what an actual laundry list is. Seriously, what is a laundry list? The State of the Union is a bankrupt communication genre that could be improved in only two ways: By shortening it to a 15-minute fireside chat about one essential subject and telling everybody the rest of it’s in the PowerPoint deck at Or by abolishing it altogether, as we have done with laundry lists.

2. The cable news talking heads will hoist themselves on their own punditards

Suffocated by the partisanship of MSNBC and Fox, I’ll retreat to CSPAN, but the first geeky reference to a “prebuttal” will send me over to CNN — only to be sickened by the visceral cravenness of Wolf Blitzer, not to mention his strange breathing patterns. As I point out (breath) every year, Wolf (breath) Blitzer, who Herman Cain and I (breath) call (breath) “Blitz,” breathes at the strang(breath)est intervals.

During the early pundit patter, David Gergen will intone that president has to avoid being boring, Newt Gingrich will say talk is cheap, and Wolf Blitzer will analyze the president’s breathing patterns. (The first two actually happened last year.)

And so, even before the speech, I will become unserious.

“Gergen declares it’s ‘glorious’ that State of the Union is delivered by a black guy and Republican response delivered by Latino,” I wrote two years ago. “But David, this country won’t really be free until you can appear on TV without your comb-over.”

3. The speech itself will make one wish one were young again, and alive.

After making a few temperate and boring analytical observations about the language and rhetoric, I will begin to lose my composure, about the conventions of the SOTU tradition. “Human props. Fuck Ronald Reagan for starting this repulsive ritual, and fuck these plastic Washington creeps for continuing it. I’m swearing a lot, aren’t I?”

Occasionally, the State of the Union has the power to move me — and my wife. In 2012, I wrote this at 10:19 p.m. “At the end, I’m transfixed at the top of the stairs, standing in a puddle of wine. The wife is downstairs bellowing at me: ‘I told you this was going to be the big speech. He is amazing!'”

Alas, if you ask me today to name or even recognize one phrase from the 2012 SOTU, I couldn’t do it.

4. The Republican response will be somewhere on a scale from boring to laughable — and it won’t be the Republicans’ fault.

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.”

But really — if the SOTU is more political theater than persuasive communication, what can be said of the opposing party’s “response,” written sight unseen?

If the SOTU is laundry-list lame, the GOP response is bill-of-lading boring.

5. The SOTU-watching nation will go to bed feeling less intellectually organized for the experience.

I should probably be embarrassed to share a few of my late-night SOTU outbursts from yesteryear …

“My mother said that before you’re 30, you have the face you were born with. After 30, you have the face you deserve. Ted Cruz well over 30. He even has the hair he deserves. Shiny-ass ’50s hair.”

“Bachmann’s speech reminds me of a speech I read the other day by the Sultan of Selangor.”

“Fox is using the terribly scientific ‘bing pulse’ graph to see which of Obama’s lines inspired orangutans to masturbate and which made them pick their asses.”

… except, the whole evening of the SOTU is characterized by vulgarity and incoherence too.

Which is what makes it so much fun.

Join me at Writing Boots. Speech starts at about 9:00 eastern, but the tailgating starts a couple hours before.


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