1.14.2011

Yay! A mixer!

I see (via the always-excellent Plain Blog) that an argument has been made against the idea that the Democrats and Republicans should mingle for the upcoming SOTU speech, rather than sitting on their respective sides like usual.
Why do we watch the State of the Union address? Is it to hear our president say patriotic, optimistic clich├ęs about our country, or explain his agenda for the upcoming year? Certainly not. It is to marvel at the amusing spectacle of clapping and standing performed by our elected representatives. Nothing is more fascinating than seeing the Democratic side of the chamber rise and applaud with gusto to something President Obama has said while Republicans either politely clap in their seats or fail to react at all. Or catching the Democrats squirm at the mention of, say, entitlement reform or the war in Afghanistan. But Mark Udall, a Democratic senator from Colorado, wants to put an end to all that:

Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall released a letter Wednesday proposing that members of both political parties sit next to each other at this year's State of the Union address instead of the normal seating which is divided along party lines.

[snip]

Unity is great, sure, but apart from the entertainment value, there is an important practical reason to maintain the State of the Union's partisan seating arrangement. A neat separation of the parties allows the American people to see, in real time, their positions on the president's agenda and the issues of the day. It's actually very informative and helpful to be able to easily assess which proposals the Republicans and Democrats support, respectively, through the decision to applaud. It also allows us to identify the few party-bucking independent thinkers who, every so often, stand up to clap while the rest of their colleagues remain seated.

Let us start by supposing that you are the sort of person who bothers to tune in to the State of the Union in the first place. That already implies that you are the sort of person who pays a minimal amount of attention to politics, and who cares enough to stop watching whatever reality show is on TLC to flip over to CNN. Let us further take as a given that it is important to you to suss out how the different parties feel about various bits of the President's agenda.

Is it really all that useful to watch the (admittedly hilarious) display of standing and sitting to determine where the parties stand (ha!) on the issues? Isn't there some other way of getting this information that is more detailed and nuanced? Say, the news? If viewers are savvy enough to spot and recognize Eric Cantor (much less their own Representatives or Senators) and note when he stands up and when he sits down, do they really have to rely on that information to know about the different parties' agendas?

Furthermore, as amusing as these political calisthenics may be at first (and as useful as they are for drinking games), they prolong the speech and grow tedious after a relatively short period of time. Plus, for anyone who is paying the remotest bit of attention to DC, they are not at all informative but utterly predictable. Of COURSE the Democrats are going to bring the noise for Obama's agenda. Of COURSE the Republicans will look incredibly cramped during their opponents' standing ovations. Of COURSE they will all stand up when the President lauds something anodyne. This is supposedly helpful to anyone?

For my part, I think this is a great idea. If the threat of getting elbowed in the solar plexus by Dianne Feinstein keeps Joe Wilson from opening his pie hole, more's the better. A display of civility would be genuinely nice, for a change, and whatever "information" is lost in the process was probably not all that important anyway.

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