Op-ed: State of the (Diss)Union

  • By Bob Franken
  • Wednesday, January 31, 2018 12:42pm
  • Opinion

It’s not a Donald Trump thing for me. I have always believed that State of the Union speeches were dopey. It’s fair to say, though, that it’s particularly ludicrous with this guy as president.

We really should replace “State of the Union” with “Tweet of the Union.” That’s how TWICTUS (Twitterer in Chief of the United States) normally stretches his attention span to communicate to citizens his complete thoughts in superficial bursts. Why do we need 45 minutes to an hour of his nastiness? Ah, yes, you respond, but it’s a way to display our democracy in action. Actually, it’s hypocrisy in action. With the boisterous applause and the platitudes, like the scripted intro by the House speaker — “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States” — the entire show is totally phony. Whoever the president is, it’s a pompous regurgitation of his ideas, ones that have been splattered on us ad nauseam. The remarks really are delivered to the folks at home watching on television, using the delirious members of Congress as a studio audience and with the party in power looking similar to those who have been revved up for a game show, like “Let’s Make a Deal.”

The spectacle also extends to the “gallery,” which is the pretentious Washington name for the bleachers. They’re filled with human props, the people, sympathy figures and others, whom the White House selects to reinforce whatever ringing declaration the leader wants to make. The president can bring 24 guests to sit with the first lady, assuming she shows up, and the speaker of the House can add 24 others. Each member of Congress can invite one person, and oftentimes that’s where they do a little mischief.

There was some talk of a Democrat bringing in Stormy Daniels, but that was considered too tacky even for this bunch. Besides, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel has booked her for his show that night. Millions who might have been bored to sleep by the president’s speech will have to figure out some way to stay awake, way past bedtime, for Kimmel. Even if she doesn’t strip. For those of you who are susceptible to floozie flu, Stormy Daniels is Donald Trump’s Gennifer Flowers. If you don’t know who Gennifer is, you’re either too young, or so prefer substance to titillation that you wouldn’t be reading this idiot column anyway.

The mind wanders. The point is: Is this all necessary? The answer is a resounding “No way.” The State of the Union address is not legally required of the president. All the Constitution says is that, “He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Before Woodrow Wilson, most of our presidents didn’t even bother making a speech. They’d merely send a written report to the Capitol. We call those times the “good old days.”

Now we have the overhyped TV extravaganza, complete with shameless members of the House trying to get on camera fleetingly as POTUS walks down the aisle, and cutaway shots as the network directors look for anyone who might be the slightest bit relevant to whatever Mr. President says — and those who are unfortunate enough to doze off. Afterward, we get the opposition response. This year, the Democrats offered up Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts. He’s the grandson of Robert Kennedy. Who said the party is mired in the past?

Then it’s on to the really big finish, where we get the spin and endless commentary from us pundits about what it all means. Spoiler alert: Not much.

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

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