Last night’s State of the Union address had some memorable moments, but it is unlikely to set an agenda or lead to any significant change. Any president can afford terrific speech writers and President Obama is a rhetorical wizard when it comes to presentation. Even so, a speech is a speech, and when a significant percentage of the populace and of the Congress are firmly committed to opposing the President on every front, it doesn’t much matter what he says.
The president’s reminder that there is a cost to being the world’s leader — or returning to a position of leadership — was and is a challenging message, but it’s unlikely to sway those who care only about making and keeping more money for themselves.
The more interesting aspect of the evening, I thought, was the decision many members of Congress made to eschew the old policy of parties sitting on opposite sides of the house. Rather, in an attempt to show a new spirit of bipartisanship, many lawmakers chose to sit with members of the opposing party. The movement appears to have started small, perhaps as a way to shift the focus from accusations of divisive and dangerous rhetoric following the attempted assassination of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Once it started, however, there was a rush to climb on the bandwagon or appear uncooperative, so lawmakers scrambled to find “dates” to sit with during the speech, hoping it would play well with voters back home.
One has to wonder, however, if the relationships will continue after the speech. Can you imagine how nice it would be if members of the U.S. Congress seriously considered working together, listening to each other, making informed decisions in the best interests of the country instead of marching lockstep to defend a party ideology?
We may assume, however, that when members of the House and Senate get back to business, they’ll once again be shouting across the aisle at their former dates, more concerned with their own reelection than with being a productive member of a group process.
It would be wonderful if the prom-like exercise of mixing and mingling should produce some lasting and mutually respective partnerships, but it’s more likely that date night on Capitol Hill will be remembered as a one night stand.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.