Bob Franken: No State of the Union

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, December 9, 2014 5:08pm
  • Opinion

There have been so many times when we’ve been looking at issues in the wrong way. This is one of them. When Republican representatives, led by Paul Broun (Never-Heard-of-Him from Georgia), demanded that President Barack Obama be denied an invitation to make a State of the Union address next month, it was viewed by many as a petulant reaction to the president’s sweeping immigration executive order. That’s probably because it was.

Broun also was derided as just another conservative who simply can’t get it into his head that Mr. Obama legitimately holds the office, never mind the fact that he’s twice been elected. Again, there’s a lot to be said for that criticism. The whole birther stupidity is just more evidence that for whatever reason (well, we know one of the reasons … racism), those on the far right refuse to believe that this guy is somehow the nation’s leader. Some of his fellow hard-liners also are suggesting that funds be cut off for Air Force One, because to them, he obviously doesn’t deserve the trappings of the office.

That’s how most of us have framed this latest flare-up, but maybe there’s a better way to look at it. Perhaps Congressman What’s-His-Name is doing us all, and that would certainly include the chief executive, a favor.

I mean, how totally awkward it is when POTUS schleps to Capitol Hill and stands in front of a bunch of raucous national leaders who noisily pretend they’re the slightest bit interested in the merits of what’s in the address. The only thing less sincere is the commentary from the various reporters covering the event as we pretend that it means anything whatsoever, which it rarely does. Believe me, after years of doing my breathless live shots before and after, I know about hyping State of the Union as the biggest thing since sliced bread; it’s not. The president knows it, the dignitaries in the audience know it (is “dignitary” the right word, since it suggests dignity?), and obviously the American people know it. What other explanation could there be for so many gravitating to one of the networks showing something else, like an infomercial for blenders or the latest action-packed documentary chronicling paint drying or grass growing. Anything but watching an hour in prime time of that circus in Washington.

Sad to say, Speaker John Boehner was having none of this. He brushed off Rep. Whozis by taking a snarky shot at the president: “Listen, the more the president talks about his ideas, the more unpopular he becomes. Why would I want to deprive him of that opportunity?” Cute.

Of course, Boehner probably gets his jollies by being in all the shots as President Obama drones on about what he wants to accomplish that Republicans have no intentions of letting him. When you think about it, the GOPs have something in common with those blenders, given how they always slice-dice-puree the entire Obama agenda.

So, as some quickly pointed out, he doesn’t have to give a speech; he can just send a letter to the Hill. No need for all that embarrassing ritual, at least not every year. All the Constitution specifies is that, “He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Get that? “Time to time.” Let’s bag it in 2015. Maybe the year after, too, since we’ll be barely paying attention to anything but the silliness of the campaign to take over the next White House.

Besides, with all the discord and anger, we don’t need a speech or even a letter to know the State of the Union. It stinks.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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