I’m thinking about having a State of the Union party. I was invited to do as much by no less than the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who somehow or other has gotten hold of my e-mail address.
I can’t really imagine a more potentially loud time than the president’s address to the combined houses of Congress. Congress people, from my limited experience, don’t speak—they yell, even when there’s a microphone right in front of their faces. They yell because they’re trying to speak with the voice of an entire congressional district, even an entire state. They yell because they’re being paid to be cantankerous, and when one of them says something particularly belligerent—usually at the top of his or her voice—it sets in motion a wave of tetchy griping and grousing that sounds thunderous when inevitably taken together.
But at the State of the Union, everyone is typically on their best behavior. People applaud—some politely, some uproariously, but all intermittently. The State of the Union is the closest our federal government gets to call and response: the President speaks from his bully pulpit, the bullied audience interrupts, and so on and so on.
It could be entertaining to gather a group for this undertaking. It could be a costume party: me in my spandex bodysuit laughing with friends in camouflage as the President gives props to his special guests and drops malaprops on his closest peers. We could do impressions of senators and representatives trying to muster up enough energy to look enthused or defiant. We could have House music running under the speech or the President’s audio running over video for Dance Dance Revolution.
Perhaps such a party would be disrespectful. The question of the state of our union is an austere, serious issue—or at least it would be if it weren’t caught up in the politics of the moment. Our federally elected officials are not getting together to figure out what we should do now, or what comes next. This is a moment like most other moments in political life, where one person’s comments are mined for their political value: what has he or she said that I can exploit for my own benefit? What momentum does this moment give my own agenda? What’s in this for me?
To the degree that the State of the Union is a show, it is worth enjoying as such. We laugh at the two-dimensional antics and foibles of whoever we see on TV, whether it’s scripted or serendipitous, whether it’s America’s Funniest Home Videos or the red carpet at the Golden Globes. There’s really no reason watching a political event can’t be like watching those events; they’re just as scripted and potentially just as hilarious. Two hours and one opposing party’s response later, it’s all over and we can get back to being disengaged private citizens, hoping that the world gets better without us.