I am sitting in my apartment with a few other journalists, eating chips and watching the State of the Union. Bush looks like he has been preserved in formaldehyde; the Democrats look as if he is a particularly disgusting specimen they are being forced to examine, like a fetus with two heads. Hillary Clinton is, one can't help but notice, making sure the cameras catch her hugging every minority in the room. Barack Obama is staring at the ceiling as if he were actually planning to rise above all of this.
9:15 Handshaking over! Now speech
9:17 Grave danger that tax relief will not be made permanent! Not very specific about what the danger is, exactly, other than George W. Bush's taxes going up.
9:18 Republicans leap to their feet. Barack studiously sitting down and looking serious, with two fingers pressed over his pursed lips. One of the other journalists wonders if this is some sort of signal. Perhaps "Beam me up, Scotty".
9:24 Okay, I love me some trade deals. But even I find it hard to believe that the greatest threat to human liberty today is the specter that Panama may not be able to sell us handmade hats.
9:29 Calling for bans on the patenting of human life. Thank God, because after what the Patent office has done with computer algorithms, I'm afraid I'd find myself paying royalties to some guy in Idaho every time I take a deep breath.
9:32 The speculation on who tonight's SOTU special guest stars will be is growing to a fever pitch here at Stately McArdle Manor. Best guess so far: Heath Ledger's family.
9:34 President Bush says that illegal immigration is complicated, but it can be resolved, and must be resolved. But illegal immigration is probably the least complicated issue out there. The 3-10X wage differential across the US-Mexico border draws people here to work; it's hard to patrol more than a thousand miles of border. Unlike almost any other issue, there aren't really any complicated, wonky proposals out there that ordinary citizens have a hard time wrapping their brain around. The main proposal is a wall. Walls are not really very hard to understand.
9:39 Don't forget to play along at home
9:41 Thoughtfully, from one of my guests: "It's hard to differentiate between cheers and boos sometimes.
9:42 President Bush says that 80,000 Iraqi citizens are fighting the terrorists. This implies something disturbing about the other 25,920,000 Iraqi citizens.
9:46 The segment on Iraq is problematic: he wants to reassure Americans that they won't have to sacrifice much more, and scare the bejeesus out of the terrorists with our steely resolve. These are mutually exclusive goals.
9:51 Peace in Israel/Palestine. And a pony! Why does every American president with a grim-looking prognosis for their legacy try to salvage everything at the 11th hour by swashbuckling into Jerusalem with no political capital to spend and praying for a miraculous resolution of the least tractable conflict of the last 50 years?
9:55 Making fun of State of the Union speeches feels a little cheap. These speeches always have the informational content of a Highlights Rebus, and they're never more vacuous than in the last year of a presidency. George Bush isn't going to do anything in the next 12 months; the biggest achievement he can hope for right now is to veto a whole bunch of earmarks. And that isn't even his fault; no president gets anything done in their last year. So why make fun of him? Well, because if you want less of something, you should raise the price of it. Me, I want fewer vacuous political speeches.
9:58 Oh. My. God. As soon as the Bush says the word "African", CNN cuts to apparently specially staged woman in full African gear, with a child wrapped in a leopard print throw. "Cue human props!"
9:59 And yet, he's talking up the Millenium project, which is actually one of the great things this administration has done. This doesn't get nearly enough good press.
10:01 Bush sounds like he's telling the little nations that if they drink their milk, some day they will grow up to be just like America.
10:02 Let us go forth to do their business? Was that seriously the last line of his final State of the Union speech? Are we toilet training them? Who's writing his speeches these days--the copywriters for Charmin?
10:04 Wolf Blitzer ponderously declares "The state of the union will, he says, remain strong" as if this were somehow remarkable. Was he thinking that George Bush might come out and recite The Second Coming?
10:06 The commentators are discussing the possibility that George Bush will achieve piece in Israel/Palestine as if this were remotely feasible. Personally I think it would be even more remarkable if he suddenly developed the ability to heal the blind.
10:17 There's something really odd about being in the middle of a hotly contested Democratic primary involving two sitting senators, and having the Democratic response to the State of the Union be delivered by . . . the governor of Kansas.
10:22 She is asking the President to "join them". This seems unlikely. Also, even if he did, having a lame duck president with low double-digit approval ratings on your side is not all that helpful.
10:24 "I know government can work, Mr President, because like you, I grew up in a family devoted to public service." This makes it sound as if the purpose of government is providing jobs for every politician's child. Oh, wait . . .
10:26 A friend reminds me of the time I fell asleep in mid-sentence--my sentence. Apparently, the governnor is causing flashbacks.
10:28 Yes, snark is beneath me. But what else can you do? The speeches are totally content-free.
10:40 t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-hat's all folks!
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