Against Obligatory Editorials

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by Conor Friedersdorf

He still loves his wife. But after 25 years of marriage, he has lost his enthusiasm for sex with her. Still. It is Valentine's Day. And she has been hinting. So he takes her to a nice dinner, uncharactertistically orders an after-dinner drink, and feels extra discouraged when it only makes him more tired. He is 55. And so tired. Upon returning home, he wants more than anything to just fall asleep, but damnit, he makes the effort. He surprises her with a gift, lights candles, and dutifully makes love to her in the fashion he thinks that she will most enjoy.

It is with similar enthusiasm that some responses to the State of the Union are penned. Everyone expects that it will be covered by political bloggers, newspaper columnists and magazine writers. Especially at movement magazines on the left and right, lots of people are going through the motions,  feigning passionate intensity that isn't there. In marriage, it is perfectly understandable for one partner to occasionally perform despite not being in the mood. Sex is built into the expectations. Justifiably so. But I'm skeptical about the system of expectations in political letters. Fresh insights are nice. I've read good stuff about last night's SOTU. We've linked some of it here. What I find pointless is the completely predictable boilerplate that gets published. The banal right-leaning editorial inveighing against the speech. The left-leaning editorial vaguely extolling its virtues. If every possible reader will agree with everything in a piece what exactly is the point of writing it?

Here's another funny thing about the media. Pitch an obscure story to an editor at USA Today. Likely as not he'll get on the Google, and if he finds the New York Times wrote about the same thing 5 weeks before in a little read blog item, your story idea is no good to him. But the State of the Union! It is guaranteed that every newspaper in America will editorialize on it... and every newspaper still editorializes on it.

Why?

Here's USA Today:

Obama appropriately called this "our generation's Sputnik moment" a time to be shocked into a new American awakening the way the nation was when the Soviets launched the first space satellite in 1957. But the nation's staggering deficits also point toward what might be called a Hindenburg moment, one in which the debt-laden economy explodes like the infamous airship. Without stronger leadership than the president offered Tuesday night, that calamity will make his other goals unattainable.

To his credit, Obama acknowledged that there will need to be painful sacrifices, something politicians often pretend is not the case, but he failed to define in any substantive way what they will be. He even stopped short of endorsing the very sensible findings of the bipartisan deficit commission he appointed, leaving the impression, as he has before, that he doesn't have much taste for the task.

Is that apt analysis? Or wrongheaded? Who cares. Either way, what is possibly the point of publishing it? I can't believe that America's budget motel travelers would be disappointed if there weren't an editorial on SOTU left at the threshold of their room, and I could easily list 1,000 more desserving topics.

Can we end obligatory pieces? I don't think the audience likes reading them. And I know journalists don't like writing them.

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