It is easy to say what I don't want to hear tonight, when President Barack Obama comes before the joint session of Congress, the Cabinet, the diplomatic corps and invited guests – and television cameras – to deliver his 2012 State of the Union address.
I don’t want to hear anything like we heard from Representative Joe “You Lie!” Wilson of South Carolina in 2010. If anyone has the atrocious manners to interrupt the president at a time like that, he or she ought to be hustled right on out of there by the Secret Service – no questions asked.
I don’t want to hear a campaign speech. It would be nice to put Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul out of mind and out of sight for a night and to think about the governance of our country as opposed to the political goofiness that engulfs us every four years. We will hear more than enough from all the political sides going forward; let us all enjoy one of the last opportunities to appreciate the continuity, solidity, and solidarity of American government and to congratulate ourselves that – slow and frustrating as it is – it works.
The things I do want to hear – in no special order – include such diverse items as bipartisan applause, laughter at the president’s jokes, pleasantries spoken among the audience and VIPs as they enter and as the president makes his way into the well of the Chamber.
I want to hear a few standing ovations – and to see Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stand next to Vice President Joe Biden, leading his side in applause at least once. There has to be some issue or proposal that is popular with both Democrats and Republicans … maybe the president will propose a college football playoff system instead of the BCS.
It is important to project such images to the world audience. They hear and see a lot on CNN and on the internet about our differences of opinion. Many Americans have no idea how our divisive political language and public squabbling play to populations who have no tradition of free speech or participation in government. And many people outside our country wonder how we manage to survive – or even if we’re intelligent enough to do so – as we holler and scream at each other every four years the way we do.
There is something deeper and more sacred beneath the politics and the differences that come between us … something that binds us together as Americans. This will be on display tonight.
In many ways, the State of the Union is ritualistic: a reaffirmation of the strength of our constitutional form of government that requires our elected head of state to report to the elected bodies of representatives each year. From President George Washington to President Barack Obama – in written format or in person before Congress – each and every president has kept this part of his oath of office. Each and every one has kept the faith.
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