Tuesday, January 25, 2011

And The State Of The Union Is....Awkward

In the buzz leading to tonight's State of the Union address, the focus was less on the substance of the speech and more on seating assignments for the audience.

Beyond the inspiring "Sputnik moment" sound bytes, the most interesting piece of it was watching how it was received. This sounds ridiculous at first.  But think about it.  For days we have been annoyed with this obsession on who's sitting where. For real?  What's the difference? Are you really unable to form your own opinion? Are we such adversaries that despite serving the same country and people we can't even sit together? Are we only able to applaud next to certain people?  And does it even matter? Some of these people are so new they could be sitting next to a seat-filler and not know it.

We thought it was a ridiculous topic of conversation. And truth be told, it is. It should be a given that seating should be party-agnostic and it's high time this was so taken for granted it's no longer a topic of discussion.

But let's indulge our inner gossip-mongers for a minute.

Admit it, you were watching. You tuned out for the middle of the speech when Obama struggled to find concrete examples of how he was going to push his policies forward, and looked at the crowd. And along with the nation's top reporters you noticed the reception this speech got was unusually quiet.

Well, duh.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that when you take people out of their partisan pens the "we're-better-than-you" syndrome is going to be taken down a notch. One only has to take a quick glance at each awkward individual to realize that. Look at the applause: historically loud and supportive; today tentative as people slowly got up, looked to their right, looked to their left, and then (and only then!) stood up and applauded if they noticed fellow party members cheering nearby.

And the awkward continues. 

There were genuine attempts at national unity, evidenced not only by the seating arrangements but also by small gestures: black and white ribbons, pink ties instead of red, more pats on the back, a somber and respectful tone overall. But on the flip side were the people who stuck to party lines, those who refused to sit apart from the party, those who even separated from their own party and made their own rebuttals. Even more awkward: the men sitting behind Obama, not quite sure how to react while he was talking.

"That's my boy!"                                "I'm so bored I could cry"
The President faced a nation in a very serious place, people who are nervous about their jobs, their future, their security, and addressed the fears that we are falling from grace (of course, special thanks to the Republicans who made sure to reignite those fears as they described in detail the "day of reckoning" the US is headed for, but we digress).

So Obama, you get props for rallying the troops and infusing Americans with renewed optimism in our future. But the vibe in the room? Tenuous at best, and, dare we say....awkward. Next year, in addition to mixed seating, let's work on boosting the confidence of our nation's leaders so they are comfortable enough to express their reaction honestly. It's not like they get a copy of the speech in advance or anything. Oh, wait....

Whatever you believe: Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Roaring Tiger or Anxious Chopper...own it.   'Cause you can.  And that's what he's talkin' about.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Part of the reason the "Sputnik Moment" thing got such a tepid response is that the text of the speech was released before the speech was given. The press was already pontificating on what Obama would say or not say. The people giving the rebuttals had their speeches ready to go. And everyone in the room knew the Sputnik thing was coming. So much for wowing the crowd. Next time, he should release one speech and deliver a completely different one.