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Stateside With Rosalea: State of the Union Day

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

State of the Union:
Small Handsome Man In Black Suit Comes To Congress And Signs Autographs

What a difference a year makes! For one thing, I was at home in time to watch the President’s State of the Union Address, and for another: “been there, done that!” By golly, I sat in that press gallery and watched another president—Sarkozy de la France—walk down the aisle of the House Chamber shaking hands and walk back out signing autographs after speaking to the assembled House and Senate.

President Bush autographing copies of his speech as he exited—and taking his time about it—cleverly compacted the time the TV pundits had to comment on what he said before the Democratic response came on air. “This really is a special coda,” remarked Jim Lehrer on PBS, “Normally the President leaves pretty quickly.” Bush was a bipartisan autograph signer because there were Republicans to the left of him and Democrats to the right during what Lehrer wryly called “our autograph-to-autograph coverage”.

So what about the speech? If it wasn’t that the Bush years have cost this country so dearly, you’d have to be a real sourpuss not to share a little bit of his glee at rubbing the Democrats faces in it. After all, while the Democrats in Congress are constantly criticized by their own party members for not bringing troops home from Iraq, the President has done that.

And that wicked chuckle while people dutifully applauded his statement that he’s issuing an Executive Order tomorrow “that directs Federal agencies to ignore any future earmark that is not voted on by the Congress. If these items are truly worth funding, the Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote.” With a stroke of a pen he can achieve what neither Obama nor McCain could achieve in their anti-lobbying bills. Take that, you putative presidential wannabes!

Shameless surface-dweller that I am, my interest was less in what was being said than in who stood or clapped and when, and in watching the reactions of Dumpling and Lavender. That’s Cheney and Pelosi, who, as President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, sit behind the President and are in camera shot every time he is. Because they’re up higher than he is, it was hard to see if Pelosi wasn’t secretly applauding under the desk sometimes.

Just as I’d noted that neither the Supreme Court Justices nor the Joint Chiefs of Staff nor the Clerk of the House, who sat at Pelosi’s left (and retrieved Pelosi’s dropped copy of Bush’s speech at one stage), applauded or stood up, the JCS and the Clerk proved me wrong. An increase in funding for veterans brought the Joint Chiefs to their feet, and words about getting the enemy on the run in Iraq brought the Clerk to her feet. But was it those words or something going on in one of the public galleries? Above the applause we could just make out someone shouting about the war.

And as for that Cheney. I swear he was looking around the Chamber trying to size up if anyone might have the spine to vote Yes on impeaching him. Not that he’s really worried about such a possibility, though he did come up to his office in the Capitol on the day Kucinich introduced the impeachment resolution last year. (I know because I was there! Not that I actually saw him, but I’ve got ears and a candyfloss brain that just kinda grabs stuff out of the ether.)

During tonight’s speech, Cheniburton positively squirmed in his chair with excitement whenever “energy” and “Iraq” were mentioned. And glared at the assembled dem/reprobates at the very mention of the maybe-not-so upcoming renewal of the Protect America Act, which many in Congress oppose because of its warrantless wiretapping provisions.

Perhaps the most amusing reaction, though, was Senator Ted Kennedy’s when the camera caught Obama looking seriously skeptical, with two fingers to his lips, during one part of the State of the Union address. Realizing that that image might come back to haunt his newly-endorsed presidential candidate friend, Kennedy—who was sitting on Obama’s left—quickly tried to distract him into talking about something in the speech booklet.

Hardly had I written all this down than I, pundit, was roundly chided by Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas who gave the Democratic rebuttal. David Brooks, the NY Times columnist, who was punditifying on Lehrer’s program, spoke for us poor, maligned, commentators later when he said of the Governor’s speech: “She started off saying we’re all Americans and then she attacked pundits. Aren’t we Americans? Cut us and we bleed!”

Sebelius’s speech was terribly good, so good you could only wish she was running for President instead of Billary. In lieu of offering the traditional partisan response, she said, “I am offering an American response.” Her just-often-enough repeated, softly spoken phrase, “We ask you, Mr President, will you join us” was just perfect.

Sorry, lady, he don’t need to join nobody, and boy is he gonna have some fun throwing spanners this last year in office.



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