Tonight President Obama gives his State of the Union before a joint session of Congress.
That this will happen is no surprise: it is an annual event with a long, long history in our country.
This year, beyond any in my own memory, this one is preceded, will be attended and followed by, numerous ‘clowns and jesters’, all attempting to influence, disrupt and confuse, though there will be an atmosphere of (I hope) at least fake civility in the chamber itself.
We seem to have descended into the pit that happens when a community of priorities – what is good for society at large – is replaced with millions of first and non-negotiable personal priorities. (We live in a homeowners association of 96 owners living in 24 buildings. As an owner, we can’t decide how to modify our 1/96th share of common property. Sometimes it seems that every citizen of this nation of over 300,000,000 thinks they have the pre-eminent right to whatever it is they demand….)
As an Army veteran myself, I always used to scoff at the Army Recruiting Slogan, an “Army of One“, where the recruiting pitch was the inference that you could be in the Army and do what you wanted to do. For me, any illusions about freedom and independence in Army life ended when I stepped off the bus at Fort Carson, Colorado 49 years ago this month…. (I didn’t have those fantasies, then, and I doubt any of my colleagues did either. We were “in the Army now”, and that meant peeling potatoes, and buzz cuts, and on and on.)
So, back to the street theatre of the Presidents address tonight.
It is impossible to escape the boatload of top priorities – absolute non-negotiables – conveyed by everyone who has even the tiniest notion of shared priorities (that number seems to be decreasing, to our peril).
Rather than focusing on how we can be better as a society, there is this constituency demanding this top priority in the State of the Union; that constituency demanding exactly the opposite; a passel of folks whose goal is to be sure that the President is a failure, so that they can then ride to “success” in two years, and on and on and on. Afterwards there will be the relatively recent tradition of the opposing parties response, and, of course, the President’s party response as well. This year, my more-or-less “congresswoman” will give the Tea Party response (I put her title in quotes, since she is our Congresswoman by name only. She was elected here, yes. But by her actions, which I experience, she could care less about the 6th Congressional District of Minnesota. She’s got bigger fish to fry.)
The President and his advisors know all of this, of course.
Tonight will happen, and those who think the President laid out a good agenda will canonize him; the ones who want him to fail will demonize him; most will care not a whit….
There were times when we more or less reached national unity, and they were times of crisis, as Pearl Harbor, or the Kennedy assassination, where we came together as a nation.
But times seem to be too good now, and they fog over a very rocky road ahead. While the focus will be on 9% unemployment tonight, we know, today, that there is 91% employment in this country. It is pretty hard to get those 91% riled up to help out those who too many think are ‘shiftless and lazy’ (unless, of course, the unemployed persons are in your own family, as we experience ourselves, today.)
Politics and policy are not a spectator sport, with winners and losers.
Luckily, we are still one country.
I hope we act like that is the case.