State of the Union Speech – brought to you by David Brooks?

I don’t like SOTU speeches.  Indeed, I wish that Presidents would return to simply delivering a written missive to Congress and be done with all the monarchical pretensions of the event.  As I’ve seen elsewhere, perhaps an e-mail would do the trick.  Therefore, I tend to read the speech the next day rather than watch it.  Furthermore, I just don’t get what stirs people about these falsely “soaring” speeches filled with a combination of absolute hot air and laundry lists of mostly unattainable (thank God!) government programs.  Moreover, as a political scientist, I’m much more interested in revealed preferences than speeches or theatre.  And the politicians all look like absolute boobs … fighting to shake hands with the President as if he were an Emperor or demi-god, applauding so often for so little, racing to spin the news.  Give me instead Questions with the Prime Minister or how about more press conferences?!        

My first reaction: did David Brooks and his pals at the Weekly Standard who yearn for a great national project (to justify a big government conservative agenda) write this thing?  Not really.  They could have written the outline and the (lame) Sputnik analogy – but then it got filled in with lots of boring filler.  And don’t get me started on the personal examples.  Imagine if at Gettysburg Lincoln interrupted the main flow of the text to say, after this beautiful line:  “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract,”  “For example, Josiah Hamilton of little Cicero, Indiana [strategically placed to Lincoln’s left and pointed to by Lincoln], who lost his leg facing down a charge of Confederate soldiers.  Or Charles Dunlop, of Name Your Swing State, God rest his soul, who faced withering enemy fire and died not three miles from here defending this great nation.”  You get my point.

I liked Megan McArdle’s take on the SOTU, here, where she notes that it reminded her of a CEO trying to sell bad earnings and a failing business model to stockholders.

7 thoughts on “State of the Union Speech – brought to you by David Brooks?

  1. Since you beat me to the punch–by seconds–let me note a few things.

    The SOTU seemed to provide more evidence of the President’s post mid-term pivot. Things that struck me included: tax reform resulting in simplification and reductions in the corporate tax; bureaucratic streamlining, regulatory reform, and a freeze of domestic discretionary spending. These are not the themes one might have expected in the yonder days of hope and change

    Of course, no one can truly believe that a freeze of a relatively small slice of the budgetary pie will make more than a minor dent in the long-term deficit (indeed, the president acknowledged as much). There will have to be significant reforms in all the major entitlement programs (and it is doubtful, once again, that such reform will be sufficient if it works within the parameters stated by the President last evening). I am curious how the numbers will work out (e.g., increased spending on education and infrastructure combined with a freeze in domestic discretionary spending).

  2. “David Brooks and his pals at The Weekly Standard.” Hmm. This is not the first time Mr. Cleveland has lobbed a cheap shot at TWS. David Brooks hasn’t written for them for years.

    Most of what I read in TWS has been very critical of Obama, Obamacare, runaway federal spending, deficits etc. For a good analysis of the SOTU address, I recommend this Weekly Standard blog posting:

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/obamas-missed-opportunity_537305.html

    1. Naturally, any magazine or institution is going to have a diversity of opinion within it or on its pages. However, in my opinion, the Weekly Standard as a whole has not been a strong force for limited government or international peace since its inception. It is largely a neocon outlet, and I consider neoconservatism to be dangerous to the cause of liberty and peace. Nonetheless, in the world of politics, one must have allies and be prudential about alliance management — so I certainly welcome their criticism of Obamacare, etc. and am happy to join them in those areas in which they espouse support for limited government, sound fiscal and monetary policy, and a prudential foreign policy. And perhaps I have misjudged the WS – but I don’t remember it being all that concerned about the growth (size and scope) of government during the Bush years. But I am open to correction, as always.

      And thank you for the pointer to the WS’s blog posting on SOTU. I’m always eager to read a variety of voices.

  3. GC, you are quite right. Sure, the WS has jumped on the Tea Party bandwagon, but that’s because editor Bill Kristol is hungry for power, and always looking for some populist movement or figure (like Palin) to ride into office, so he can serve as the “gentleman” to the statesman or stateswoman (i.e., as an advisor to the prince). (For more on this approach to politics and power, see: Strauss, Leo)

    The magazine’s latter-day libertarianism is purely mercenary.

  4. Ahhhh, you’re just no fun, you with your hard heart! I love the soaring rhetoric and the “little people” who get highlighted in the speech. Those are the best parts.

    The SOTU to me is a patriotic experience where we celebrate things that unite us and what is great about our country.

    To expect more out of it (like a serious analysis of policy options) is just naive. Enjoy it for what it is and stop whining.

    [That said, I can’t stand to watch the thing because of the incessant applause. But is is always fun to read.]

    1. Wow, an economist calls me hard-hearted with your rationalist models of even things like marriage (actually, I enjoy those arguments too)!

      I don’t need serious analysis. I just want them to do what half of our presidents did — deliver it in written form!

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