Listen to his story about meeting President Obama.
Listen to his story about meeting President Obama.
It seemed like an innocent enough suggestion by a government speechwriter, on Twitter: Why doesn't the Professional Speechwriters Association collect and publish research on the effect speeches can have on an audience?
Then why did blood rush hot into my face?
Because this is exactly the kind of expectation of the head of an association that turns heads of associations gray, and shrinks them until their blazer sleeves go down to their knuckles.
As head of the PSA, I suppose I am bound to nod solemnly, and assure this speechwriter—he is a dues-paying member after all, whose interests and needs I am sworn to serve, whose opinions I'm obligated to consider—that his suggestion is a good one and that we will be looking into publishing more studies quantifying the effects of speeches very soon.
So I tweeted back, "In short, because most such research is b.s., and speechwriters know it."
And my face cooled down, right away!
I also asked the speechwriter to cite a Huffington Post article he had cited that purportedly proved that the recent State of the Union Address boosted President Obama's favorability rating 15 percent. As expected, the study proved no such thing. It showed that people liked this SOTU better than last year's, and it increased SOTU watchers' confidence in the president's policies by 15 percent (less than last year, actually).
Oh, and "the opinions of State of the Union watchers don't represent the view of Americans as a whole. Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to watch Obama's speeches, as Republicans were more inclined to watch during the Bush administration. Most Americans don't watch even parts of the State of the Union Address, and it has proven unlikely to affect presidential approval ratings."
So this speechwriter wants me to find more shabby, flabby, phony "research" like that, and publish it noisily and frequently on the PSA website and spray it all over the Internet so that speechwriters can join all the other soft professions—HR, PR, marketing—that stream continuous lies about how it's a proven fact that if only you appreciate members of their associations, you'll get rich and famous and everyone will love you.
I've always appreciated speechwriters for knowing, more than members of other communication disciplines I've covered, that the main measure of a successful speech is simple: The boss liked it.
"I agree with you, most of the research is BS," the speechwriter acknowledged in a followup email. "But I still have hope that there might be something out there quantifying the impact we know speeches can have or maybe just qualifying how they work best. I think it would be a very valuable contribution from the PSA for us speechwriters to have when arguing for the relevance of good speechwriting, storytelling and preparation when in competition with sales, PR or press."
The speechwriter is relatively young, and European. So it's likely he never read his H.L. Mencken, who wrote about the American "Cult of Hope," which seems to have crossed the Atlantic in the century since Mencken named it:
"Unluckily, it is difficult for a certain type of mind to grasp the concept of insolubility," Mencken said. "Thousands of poor dolts keep on trying to square the circle; other thousands keep pegging away at perpetual motion. ... These are the optimists and chronic hopers of the world ... It is the settled habit of such credulous folk to give ear to whatever is comforting; it is their settled faith that whatever is desirable will come to pass."
I am not calling a member of the Professional Speechwriters Association a "poor dolt." But I'll be damned if anyone will call me or our membership conniving enough to seek and distribute the work of said dolts, optimists and chronic hopers to further our professional interests. (Which wouldn't have any effect if we tried to do it.)
Here at the PSA—for as long or as short as I'm in charge—we're gonna keep it real. If we run across some research on the effects speeches have on audiences that offers some real insight, our members and their clients will be the first to know. Otherwise, we're going to help speechwriters get ahead the way speechwriters have always gotten ahead: finding clients who want to communicate, and having the chops to give those clients the help they need.
Meanwhile, I'm no more hopeful of tripping over the study that quantifies the beneficial effects of speeches than I am fearful that Harvard will come out definitive proof that speeches do more harm than good.
Harper's still has it. Over a double scotch last night on the night flight home from the Vital Speeches home office in Phoenix, Saul Bellow derided my curmudgeonliness (in an excerpt from an essay in 1951):
The idea that we are at the degenerate dwarf-end of history is one that [a writer] must reject as he rejects his own childishness. Writers have a conservative tendency, in the literal meaning of the word, and are hostile toward the future. The future may destroy, or ignore, their premises, their beliefs, their assumptions, all that they have received from the past.
But just as I was resolving to embrace every shiny new thing from brand journalism and Bruno Mars, Wendell Berry said I'm perfectly justified—nay, heroic!—in resisting no less a force than the Industrial Revolution itself!
My premise is that there is a scale of work at which our minds are as effective and even as harmless as they ought to be, at which we can be fully responsible for consequences and there are no catastrophic surprises. But such a possibility does not excite us.
What excites us is some sort of technological revolution: the fossil-fuel revolution, the automotive revolution, the assembly-line revolution, the antibiotic revolution, the "green revolution," the genomic revolution, and so on. But these revolutions—all with something to sell that people or their government "must" buy—are all mere episodes of the one truly revolutionary revolution perhaps in the history of the human race, the Industrial Revolution, which has proceeded from the beginning with only two purposes: to replace human workers with machines, and to market its products, regardless of their usefulness or their effects, to generate the highest possible profit—and so to concentrate wealth into ever fewer hands.
This revolution has, so far, fulfilled its purposes with remarkably few checks or thwarts. I say "so far" because its great weakness is obviously its dependence on what it calls "natural resources," which it has used ignorantly and foolishly, and which it has progressively destroyed. Its weakness, in short, is that its days are numbered.
Having squandered nature's "resources," it will finally yield to nature's correction, which in prospect grows ever harsher.
So should I embrace the future despite the fact that it may destroy my premises? Or should I continue to remind my readers and myself that my "premises, beliefs and assumptions" are timeless if homely economic and human truths that we have had enough oil to ignore for the last 200 years?
Honestly, I never liked any of Bellow's books anyway.
Writers (and other people) should remember that every honest person can be made to be fascinating on at least one subject. Usually that subject is the person's work—the area of life where they have been forced to conduct a close, daily longitudinal study.
Most people do need to be drawn out, and once drawn out they need to be steered because they often have a hard time knowing what's so compelling about their daily grind.
Why am I thinking about this right now? For a magazine article, I'm working on a story about a man who I think has one of the most fascinating jobs in America. I'm at that nervous stage in the reporting when I have too much truth to get across in too few words, and I'm afraid a I'll die trying and the article will die with me. I remind myself that I've done this before. I've writtten interesting stories about people with far grimmer jobs—but jobs that give them "time to think," as my favorite Chicago bartender puts it in this delicious Chicago magazine profile that I wish I'd written.
Most of the best stories I've done have been about people working seemingly prosaic jobs, like Ernie Casper, hairpiece maker:
There are no windows in Ernie Casper's double storefront at 6033 N. Cicero Ave., and that's probably for the best, considering the business he's in.
"When you come in to buy a hairpiece, you're scared," Casper says. "Your hands are sweating."
Casper's first goal in closing a hairpiece sale is making sure the customer never has to utter the unhappy words, "I need a hairpiece." Casper welcomes the man warmly, ushers him back to a barber's chair—free haircuts are another sales technique—and after singing and whistling his way through a haircut, he eventually gets around to saying, "I'd like to show you something."
Before the customer knows it, his bald scalp is covered in one of the many dozens of differently shaped, sized and colored hairpieces that Casper keeps in stock.
But the hairpiece the customer finds himself looking at is not the best fit Casper can find for him, nor even the second-best fit. Casper says that men always find fault with the first hairpiece they see. So if he gives a new customer the best he's got, "then there's nowhere to go."
Once the customer inevitably rejects the first rug, Casper shows him a second. Now the customer is warming up and ready to rave when he sees Casper's third and final contribution—the one he has had in mind for the customer all along. If he has done his job right, in some cases all that's left for Casper to do is make a few adjustments to the hairpiece and "cut it in"—that is, trim it and style it so it blends perfectly with the customer's hair—and teach the man how to wear and care for the piece properly.
Or Paul Frisbee, the stand-up comic who made his living trucking in a GMC Jimmy to disconsolate hotel bar gigs throughout the Midwest, and felt sorry for Jerry Seinfeld:
The Chicago-based comedian, who is one of hundreds of nameless stand-up comedians roaming various regions of the country playing big-city comedy clubs and small-town hotel bars, believes big names like Seinfeld and Ray Romano and Jeff Foxworthy and Paula Poundstone have lost something precious that they can never have back: the ability to know, for sure, whether they're still funny.
When an audience pays big bucks to see a big-name comic, they want to laugh and they feel they should laugh, he reasons, so unless the celebrity is absolutely dreadful, they do laugh. By contrast, every time a no-name road comic gets up in front of an audience, Frisbie says, "you're daring them not to like you. You have to make them like you. And the nice thing is, when you're not famous, you earn it every night. It's a wonderful rush."
Dawn, who also teaches during summer layoffs at the Joffrey school in New York, often has occasion to advise young dance pupils on how they should approach a career in dance. In a word, carefully. “It’s a difficult world,” she tells them. “You’re vulnerable to elements of judgment from inside you and outside you.”
What she does not tell them is more revealing: “I don’t tell them that every one of their hearts is going to be broken. I don’t say only one of you will make it. I say, ‘I want to feel you.’”
What Dawn also does not tell her students: A career in dance precludes many other options in life. The low wages, the layoffs, the rigorous rehearsal schedules and the intense competition makes life difficult for dancers who want to have families. ...
[Dawn] was married once, to another dancer. When he quit dancing and went to law school, he wanted kids and she wanted to dance—a disagreement that split their marriage, she says. Though she says she’s looking for a relationship, she says she doesn’t regret not having had children. Indeed, she expresses no regrets at all about her life in dance.
Asked about other possibilities in life she might have missed because of her devotion to dance, Dawn replies, “What other possibilities?”
Yes, I can do this. I can write about people and their work.
I can do this for the rest of my life.
It is my work.
Speechwriter Alex Marklew offered a quote from Lord Beaverbrook that I'd never heard before: "Creative writers are two a penny. Efficient hacks are very rare."
Like "amazing" and "awesome" (and not to mention "amazeballs" and "awesome sauce") ... "rant" is over-used these days. A "rant," ladies and gentleman, is not a clever social critique on Gawker with a few swear words in it. A rant requires some stomping around.
The following post originally appeared on Writing Boots in February 2010. Five years later, the big boys are again spending many millions in conference fees, private-jet fuel and caviar the World Economic Forum for the annual clustermucketymuck. —ed.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote an essay not long before he died in which he called the world's leaders what they are: the "guessers," on whose grand public hunches rest the fate of us all. Aristotle, Ivan the Terrible and Hitler were three of the variously successful guessers from history that Vonnegut named.
But the guessing goes on, wrote Vonnegut, even after the information revolution:
Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long—for all of human experience so far—that it is wholly unsurprising that most of the leaders of this planet, in spite of all the information that is suddenly ours, want the guessing to go on, because now it is their turn to guess and be listened to.
I thought of that essay as I read a Huffington Post piece called "Davos Confidential," written by Eric Schmidt, simultaneously a direct supervisor of the information revolution and the guesser-in-chief at Google.
He's at Davos right now.
He starts out on a somewhat defensive note:
It's easy to sneer at Davos as a place where the rich, powerful and famous come to talk to each other and arrogantly put the world to rights. But there has been little sign of arrogance at recent gatherings. Nor any settled view of how to overcome the challenges our world faces. If there is a global conspiracy underway at Davos, no one has yet let me in on the secret.
Instead Davos mirrors the uncertainty in the world in general. The real story this year was not arrogance but anxiety over how we could channel turbulent global forces in a more positive direction so that everyone gains.
Oh, no. So these days our guess is as good as the guessers'?
Back to Vonnegut, who listed some of the influential guesses we've been laboring under in recent years.
The poor have done something very wrong or they wouldn’t be poor, so their children should pay the consequences.
The United States of America cannot be expected to look after its people.
The free market will do that.
The free market is an automatic system of justice.
And back to Schmidt, who concludes his essay by talking about the "principles central to Davos," which sound familiar:
Principles such as the benefits of free trade, free societies and free speech and, above all, open collaboration between business people and politicians who recognize that with freedom should come responsibility. Yes, the world has critical challenges, especially in 2010, but I believe that in these Davos values lie our solutions. It's this hope and optimism that will ensure I keep coming back as long as I am invited.
Davos values? Hope? Optimism?
You know what it sounds like?
It sounds like he's guessing.
Maybe you saw my little satire about Aaron Sorkin calling b.s. on borderline phony and downright treacly New York Times account of the writing of the State of the Union Address.
Gawker writer Alex Pareene takes it further, gleefully savaging the Times piece graph by fatuous graph—the article really is full of blarney—and then lamenting the over-glorification of the presidential speechwriter, which he says "probably all dates back to the cult of Kennedy, and JFK's partnership with Ted Sorensen. But political rhetoric has inarguably declined in literary quality since the 1960s about as much as it had already declined, by then, since the 18th and 19th centuries."
And now? Sez Pareene:
Modern political speechwriting is not a high-minded pursuit for brilliant talents. Aaron Sorkin should be shot into space for perpetuating this bullshit fantasy that still enamors hacks like Cody Keenan. Writing a 6,000-word presidential speech is a process that bears only a mechanical resemblance to writing 6,000 words meant to be read and appreciated by normal humans. Some political speechwriters may also happen to be good writers, but they would have to achieve success in a field other than political speechwriting to prove it. (Former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett, for example, is funny on Twitter and a good political columnist. Neither of those things were evident in his work as a speechwriter.)
I am not arguing that any untrained schmo off the street could write a State of the Union address. Modern political speechwriting is certainly a skill, and one that requires experience and practice to master. It is not, however, a literary endeavor. It is marketing, and not even particularly imaginative marketing. Advertising people who call themselves "creatives" do more actual creative work than political speechwriters. Do the people who write statements of risk for pharmaceutical ads walk around swishing single malt in tumblers and comparing themselves to The Lost Generation? (Well, they probably do, but they are wrong.)
Political speechwriting is an exercise in the proper arrangement of cliches and platitudes, with a bit of "messaging" of policy ideas to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Speeches like the one the president will deliver tonight are designed to deliver pleasant inanities (The State of the Union is Strong) and sell certain carefully audience-tested proposals as vaguely (or misleadingly) as possible. The State of the Union is less written than it is designed, structured and organized around applause prompts and camera cues.
The cheap thing to here is to point out that writing overwrought rants at Gawker probably isn't a high-minded pursuit for brilliant talents either.
More substantively: Judging speechwriters based on the literary quality of a State of the Union Address is like judging a poet based on whether her grocery list rhymes. As I wrote on HuffPo yesterday, the State of the Union Address is not a speech.
Most importantly, we must ask: In the scheme of things, precisely what harm is done by even the most egregious once-a-year over-praising of presidential speechwriters? The other 364 days a year, these folks work in a windowless basement cranking out an unthinkable number of high-profile speeches every month, every week, every day.
Why do you think David Axelrod and Obama say these asinine things to the Times about how Keenan is like Hemingway and Mike Royko? (Axelrod says Keenan "reminds me of some of the folks I grew up with in the old days in Chicago journalism — those hard-bitten, big-hearted, passionate writers who brought the stories of people to life.")
They do it to throw the writer a fucking bone, and keep him from leaving to employ his creative writing skills doing much less taxing, more lucrative work for the private sector!
And why do they want so badly to keep him on board?
Because he is incredibly valuable and hard to replace!
He knows a ridiculous amount about the boss, the protocol and the style of remarks for various occasions from the SOTU to the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon, where to find information and stories and anecdotes, how to get things apporoved, how to avoid gaffes, and a bunch of other things I don't even know about. And in the middle of that daily (and nightly) shitstorm, they know how to turn an occasional original and memorable phrase or make a rigorous argument for changing immigration policy, raising the minimum wage, or altering our relationship with Cuba.
Speechwriters don't compare themselves to Hemingway. Their bosses do, for the same reason they give them windowless offices: to keep them off the ledge.
Really, Pareene, what's the harm?
So where are we, after 267 hours of speechwriting, 568 pundits and several screwdrivers self-served in 55-gallon drums? An administration speechwriter asks me what I thought of the speech (he "liked it," and also thought the Republican response was the "least-bad one I can remember"). I refer him to the below. Honestly, I hate the SOTU. (As George Will does, over on Fox, calling the whole spectacle "degrading.") I like President Obama. So I liked the speech pretty well.
And unless anyone sees any reason for me not to, I'm just about ready to turn to the Australian Open tennis tournament.
Gerald, good night.
SOTU rebuttal, by area dad: “Country’s a goddamn mess, and this is the explanation we get. Complete load of horseshit.” (H/t to new area dad Shawn Bannon.)
Schumer says President Obama "felt strong, and good."
Gerald in Norway, are you awake? Text me if you're still awake and tell us what you thought of the speeches!
Stepford Wife action going on here.
We were about halfway through Joni Ernst's speech when the drugs began to take hold.
Red Oak!? I buy all my suits in Red Oak!
I think "middle-class economics" is the enduring concept, if there is one, from this speech. That, and "I know because I won them both."
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."
Well, readers, what did you think? I'm left feeling ... tired. Vodka now!
Oh no he didn't!
Referring back to 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. "Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out ... that my presidency" hasn't fixed the division between red and blue. And people claim that not only my faults are to blame but the vision itself was naive. "I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I think the cynics are wrong. I still believe that we are one people."
Lists evidence from his presidency.
Up to us in Washington to live up to American citizens' example. Up to us to: "Appeal to one anothers' basic decency instead of one anothers' basest fears. ..." "If we're going to have arguments, let's [make them] worthy ..." etc.
"Is he going rogue?" asks Cristie from the other room, with this "lecture"? Carter lectured the American people and got beat for it.
Obama is lecturing the legislature (and the Court, I guess) ... and will get away with it.
I'm not writing these things down because I think they're effective. I'm writing them down because if I don't, I won't listen.
Gitmo: "It's not who we are."
Values: We use drones as little as possible, we defend Muslims and free speech and fight persecution of women, GLBT and are generally awesome sauce not just because it's right but because it makes us safer.
Pentagon sez climate change is threat to national security. "We should act like it."
A Chicago correspondent texts, "Is that contraption/drink holder in front of Boehner from Area 51? Zoltan! P.S. The Blackhawks are up 3-0."
Cristie, on the proposal to reward corporations who invest in America: "He says that every fuckin' time."
Now we get into the apparently unavoidable List of Shit.
"Let's set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline ..." This is LBJ, operating the public way.
What a simple and sane and too-rare appeal: Hire a veteran because veterans are good workers.
The Washington Redskins should be renamed, the Washington Boehners.
Is he fucking staring down the Republicans for not standing up over equal pay for women? "He's on fire!" bellows Cristie from the living room.
"Middle-class economics." A new term, and about time—only 30 years after "trickle-down economics." Will it stick?
I'm fixing to go out and celebrate! And just as I get ready to make that crack, Obama jokes, "That's some good news, people!" My communicator pal Allan Jenkins remarks, "I'm not sure it's a good idea to have a smart-ass giving the State of the Union, but it sure does work."
"They were young and in love in America. And it doesn't get much better than that." Not bad, Cody Keenan.
"The shadow of crisis is past. The State of the Union is strong." The speechwriter's days were long.
I'm no fashion expert, but Michelle certainly is wearing what I'd call a zipper-forward get-up tonight.
Seriously. Where is Gergen? I would do a pay-per-view of him watching the speech in his living room. Or him watching the Washington Wizards game in his living room, during the speech.
Ballzy commentary from Blitz: "So it's almost like the president will be taking a sort-of victory lap right now."
Missive from a speechwriting pal who lives in Washington but who can still see out. He shares Dan Pfeiffer's brag that "We posted the speech ... [because] the public should see it when press and Congress get it .... Changing a SOTU traditon forever."
Asks the rhetorician rhetorically, "Does anyone really give a shit?"
Wolf Blitzer just breathed between saying "John" and "Kerry," and then he added: "This is going to be a long night, but it's going to be an exciting night."
Tom Foreman informs us that we, too, can participate during the speech in the Digital Dial Test."
(A shout-out to a jetlagged, sleepless pal who just called me from Oslo, Norway. Hello Gerald!)
I can't believe how much I miss David Gergen. I always saw him as the only adult in the studio.
Jay Carney is an avatar of Jake Tapper's penis.
Actually, Michelle looks like she's in a shit mood.
As we prepare to witness the president and the first family exiting the White House portico, it occurs to me to marvel at the impossibility of imagining (and the endless trying to imagine) what it would be like to be in that position, day in and day out for four or eight years. Is there a chance Obama is not coming out because he's checking out ESPN and still in his socks and grumping off to Michelle about the SOTU, "I'm just not feelin' it tonight."
Written during a previous SOTU: "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."
This year, CNN is using this embarrassing "technology."
Jake Tapper is an avatar of John King.
At Fox, they're all screaming at each other hysterically about who, exactly, is gonna kill all these fucking asshole terrorists. I understand where they're coming from.
Facebook indicates that I am the only dipshit I know who is watching this coverage right now.
Where is Gergen? If he wasn't going to be on, couldn't he have lent his comb-over to Smerconish?
John King is an avatar in real life.
Tom Foreman is an avatar in Second Life.
If life made any sense at all, Anderson Cooper would appear, during his SOTU coverage, with Kathy Griffin.
To avoid seeing pre-released excerpts of the pre-written Republican response to the State of the Union Speech, I'm headed back to the liquor cabinet.
When they asked me three months ahead of time whether I wanted to know whether I was having a boy or a girl, I was all, "Totes McGotes!" But I choose not to read these pre-released speech excerpts. (However, wouldn't it be cool if my wife would pre-release excerpts of our fights?)
BREAKING: Writing Boots has learned that Aaron Sorkin just read this passage in The New York Times story about how SOTU writer Cody Keenan consulted with White House speechwriting colleague Ben Rhodes when he was stuck with the speech …
Mr. Keenan had spent 15 days holed up in a hotel room in Honolulu as the president vacationed nearby, and seven more in a windowless office in the basement of the West Wing trying to turn a blank computer screen into a 6,000-word State of the Union first draft. The lonesome process had finally gotten to him.
So the burly 34-year-old former high school quarterback left his White House office and trudged in the freezing rain to the nearby apartment of one of his closest friends in the administration, Benjamin J. Rhodes.
It was after midnight, but Mr. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and the writer of many of the president’s foreign policy speeches, was up reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” to his 4-week-old daughter. The two men poured two single-malt Scotch whiskies and, with the baby resting quietly, began triage on Mr. Keenan’s prose. By 5 a.m., a more succinct draft was on its way to the president.
It was after midnight, but Mr. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and the writer of many of the president’s foreign policy speeches, was up reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” to his 4-week-old daughter.
… and Sorkin called bullshit.
In fact, he called bullshit on three levels.
First, Sorkin said that no one has ever spent 22 days "holed up" writing any 6,000-word document, let alone a list of policy proposals for a president who has already done this five times. Figuring 12-hour days (the minimum to meet the definition of "holed up"), that means young Cody spent 264 hours writing these 6,000 words. "That's 22 words an hour," Sorkin said. "I fart 22 words an hour."
It also strained Sorkin's rubber credulity that, finally lonely after 22 days of solitary confinement, Keenan staggered out into the freezing rain after midnight. "Some schlock," said the creator of Sam Seaborn, "I will not eat."
And then young Keenan finds young Rhodes "reading To Kill a Fucking Mockingbird to his four-week-old daughter?" shouted Sorkin incredulously. "No wonder the kid was 'resting quietly.' She was probably pretending to be asleep, lest these goody two-shoes geeks start reciting 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.' God help me, what have I done?"
This is the Hour of Lead. While we wait for Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go ... it seems well to honor the poor speechwriter, without whose senseless slavery the State of the Union would no doubt have been abolished half a century ago. Last week, the Professional Speechwriters Association, of which I am the distinguished executive director, released its Founding Member Survey, which as far as we know amounts to the most authoritative study ever done on the speecies scribus orallus.
Only PSA members get the full scoop, but here's the executive summary: Speechwriters feel lucky, troubled, worried, lonely and hopeful.
Speechwriters, it turns out, are not very different from you and me.
Settling in for another thoughtful, professional analysis of the State of the Union Address.
(Photo credit: Scout Murray)
Despite the decline in SOTU viewership from the 67 million viewers that President Clinton drew in 1993 and 52 million that President Obama got for his first SOTU in 2009, there will still be 30 million watching tonight, according to Politico.
And I don't even know what I'm wearing yet!
Vice President Biden is seen installing a fog machine near House of Representatives Rostrum in order to jazz up SOTU. “I wanted to do this thing up right with a whole laser rig and shit," he tells The Onion, "but that would’ve set me back mucho dinero. But don’t you worry; Uncle Joe knows a few tricks with strobes that’ll get the crowd going."
Huffington Post publishes my SOTU preview, "The State of the Union Address is decadent and depraved."
If White House chief speechwriter Cody Keenan drank while he wrote this year's State of the Union Speech, why wouldn't I drink while I listen to it? Join me here tonight for as I attempt to match the incoherence and vulgarity, decadence and depravity of this annual Washington ritual. Speech starts at 9:00 eastern; tailgating will commence a couple hours before.
No one in Chicago likes our mayor, Rahm Emanuel. An election's coming up and he'll probably get re-elected because he is slick and well-backed by corporate interests. We are afraid of crossing slick corporate-backed dudes. We have this funny feeling that if we reject them, they'll pull their slick corporate money out of our town and everything will immediately rust out and fall apart and our property values will go down and we'll spend the rest of our miserable lives staggering around in burlap smocks.
But it really is true that no one in Chicago likes Rahm. At least, I've never spoken with a single Chicagoan who said, "I like Rahm!" (And though Mayor Daley had many critics, some of them vociferous and most of them justified, you heard lots of people exclaim—sometimes in an apologetic, confessional way—"You know, I love Mayor Daley!")
Why does no one like Emanuel?
The old rhetoric professor Jerry Tarver used to talk about a colleague who was "so pompous that he could say 'good morning,' and it seemed as if he was taking credit for it."
That's not quite it with Rahm. It's not that he carries himself with too much self-love. It's that he regards the rest of us with ... well, he seems to talk to his constituents as if he's caught a pair of senseless and not very clean eight-year-old boys fighting in the dirt, and pulled us apart by our hair. Now it's time for a lecture. He's trying to be as patient as he can ...
We know the job is frustrating, Rahm, but you begged and begged and begged and begged us for it. And you bought it. And so now you own it. And you can't manage to appear grateful and happy and game, at least some of the time?
No, you're too fed up with the dumb-ass citizenry and its endless naive questions.
Well, we know how you feel, because we're parents too.
So we don't like being talked to like kids.