Home > Politics > State of the Union Speeches- They Matter Because Sometimes They Surprise

State of the Union Speeches- They Matter Because Sometimes They Surprise


There’s a piece in Politico today (a publication that exhibits all that is wrong and twisted about political coverage with its superficial and cynical repackaging of what is pretended to not be conventional wisdom), that says it’s time to do away with the annual State of the Union speech. I could not disagree more.

I will admit that in the hours leading up to the event last night, I was kind of dreading the tediousness of it all; the 75 interruptions for applause with the one side clapping while the other sits on its hands, the requisite heroes in the audience sitting with the First Lady, the tiresome glad-handing and back-slapping that occurs as the cabinet and the Joint Chiefs and the Supremes and, finally, the President, enter the chamber.

But sometimes the event- the speech and its reactions- surprise you.

There were several moments that made it all worth it to me. In every case, it was when unity unexpectedly filled the chamber. Hope for the future of the Republic!

Unity Incident #1: When the President spoke about America as a place that offers unending possibility and opportunity.

It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is Speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth.

The line about Speaker John Boehner was classy and it was greeted in the chamber by a standing ovation by both parties. And when the President delivered the line about himself being the son of a single mom, Boehner, in turn, graciously stood and clapped for him.

Unity Incident #2: Ok, granted it was kind of minor, but when the President riffed on the importance of equal pay for equal work he offered this great line:

It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.

Boehner’s reaction was a genuine smile. Clearly the Speaker has taken in a few episodes of Don Draper, Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, and company. It was kind of like an athlete tipping his cap to an opponent; a “well-played, sir” kind of thing.

Unity Incident #3

The amazing moment that involved one of the heroes sitting with the First Lady, Army Ranger, Cory Remsburg. It just could not get more poignant:

I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program – a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack. We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.

A few months later, on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.

For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day.

Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.

“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”

Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.

The applause in the chamber was deafening. And lasted for at least five full minutes. Forgive me for abandoning my usual snarky cynicism, but that, was a deeply moving experience.

And it’s moments like those- the ones that belie the divisions and anger and hatred, that are good for the country to see. Yes, it’s mostly predictable and the ritual, for some, gets annoying. But there’s a, perhaps, naïve side of me that gets damn near misty-eyed when I see Americans standing together united by…anything. We need to see more, not less of that.

  1. January 29, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    I agree, these few moments that pop up during the regular pomposity of Washington politics continues to feed the feeble little flames of hope I still have for a cooperative government. I don’t think you’re naive. (Well, maybe you are. But that’d require me to admit to it too). I was similarly impressed with the Republican’s rebuttal speech. How she insisted that the President also wants what’s best for America. Maybe they recognize that people are tired of paralyzing polarization. One could only hope, right?

  2. January 29, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    I was thinking maybe we should do away with the State of the Union. It seems at times to be a tedious self-congratulatory spectacle. But you did a great job of convincing me otherwise, my friend. Changemymind!

  3. oldschoolpirate
    January 30, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    I would hate to see it go, too, and I very much enjoyed the same moments you did. Agree or disagree with the content, I always seem to enjoy seeing how they’re going to pull it off. Each president has his own way of amplifying anything good that has happened and then characterizing epic failures by declaring something like, “Democracy is not always pretty and we hit a few bumps along the road….but we’re ‘MURICANS, the greatest people on the planet!” (….pause for raucous applause)
    I also love watching the entrance and exit. There’s always a “hierarchy of handshakes” that takes place, Obama’s range seems to be wider than some of the others, ranging from the “polite, forced-smile, I’m not even sure who you are” quick handshake to the “wind up like I’m throwing a fastball hand thrust followed up by a hug, laugh, wink and little inside joke in the ear” handshake.

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