Bimbo Banter

Kabuki and State of the Union

  • Trends
  • January 13, 2016
  • by Merrie Spaeth

President Obama’s last State of the Union was Kabuki theatre, the stylized Japanese drama combining highly-scripted and predictable copy, plot lines and elaborate staging. Such was the State of the Union.

Spaeth clients can scrape a few lessons – also highly predictable. The listening face is as much a part of the staging as the words of the main actors. Many of the members of Congress looked as if they were in the midst of a colonoscopy. My daughter observed that House Speaker Paul Ryan “looked like a small child whose parents have told him what he did wrong, and who doesn’t care.” The ultra-liberal senator Elizabeth Walker looked engaged and intent while Sen. Bernie Sanders looked bored and pulled his paper of talking points out of his pocket. At one point, the camera rested on Nancy Pelosi who was clearly checking her Apple Watch. To all attending:  no gum chewing!

Although billed as a shorter performance, the marathon went on for 59 minutes, far too long. The content was a jumble of ideas, ranging from teaching children computer code to a “moon shot” aimed at curing cancer. (Someone recycled pages from President Nixon’s speeches. My late husband Tex Lezar, one of Nixon’s speechwriters, would have been so proud.)

In delivery, in understanding what the medium really was, President Obama excelled. He treated the occasion as a chat between neighbors, resting his forearms on the podium, speaking conversationally in half sentences and repetitions.

Remembering that it was also a media occasion, his conversation was punctuated with soundbites like “Priority One is keeping the American people safe and going after terrorists.” And it included the required lines of self-aware, self-deprecating humor: “the only people who will have the same job for 30 years with benefits are the people here in this room.”

Personally, the content of the speech was again a disappointment, pushing the philosophy that the government can and should do everything and good intentions are all that matter. There was not a word on personal responsibility, accountability or fiscal responsibility. But the president did have one profoundly true line, noting “The pace of change will only accelerate.”

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