8:45 p.m. ET Fifteen minutes to go! As members of Congress mill about the House of Representatives, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi stand stiffly in their positions at the front of the room, like the bride and groom at a wedding attended by 535 of the world’s toothiest people.
8:53 The mingling continues. Lots of overly enthusiastic handshakes and plenty of forced smiles – two of the three fundamental skills possessed by all politicians. (At a formal event such as this, there really isn’t much demand for the third skill: page fondling.)
8:58 We are informed that the member of cabinet staying away from Capitol Hill tonight for “just in case”-based reasons is Attorney-General Eric Holder. “He volunteered for the assignment,” Wolf Blitzer tells us. It seemed like a savvy move, but Holder is two minutes away from realizing that Obama’s speech means Supernanny is pre-empted.
9:00 Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, Hero of the Hudson, Guest on Letterman, Future Motivational Speaker and Paid Spokesman for Viagra, is in attendance and being acknowledged by members of Congress. He’s been to the Super Bowl, the Vanity Fair Oscar party and now a Presidential address. The only major American event he has yet to attend is anti-Semitic Scrabble night at Mel Gibson’s house.
9:04 The Justices of the Supreme Court are introduced and enter the chamber. We see Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just three weeks removed from cancer surgery. She’s smiling and accepting handshakes while walking slowly and – whoosh! – Clarence Thomas just totally cut around and blew past her! The other judges are queuing respectfully behind Ginsburg but Thomas wasn’t having any of that “waiting” bullcrap. In his defence, it’s an established fact that first guy into a room gets first pick of the hotties.
9:12 As the President enters the House and attempts to set a land speed record for handshakes and “How are yous,” – current record holder: Charlie Sheen making the introductory rounds on his recent Night of 100 Hookers – Wolf Blitzer tells us that this speech to Congress is essentially a State of the Union speech… except that the President does not need to formally declare his opinion of the current state of the union. This is a relief. Given the economy, Obama would have had pretty much no option but to say: “The state of our union is… hey, look over there, is that Lindsay Lohan? [Sounds of footsteps moving swiftly, followed by a car door opening, an engine starting and tires squealing.]”
9:16 A curious moment: Obama arrives at his podium then turns and hands a manila envelope to Joe Biden, and another to Nancy Pelosi. This is probably just some antiquated American political custom. Either that, or he’s ordered each of them to whack the other.
9:17 “Thank you. Thank you very much everybody. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much…”
9:20 We’re a couple minutes into the speech. The image on the TV is striking: Obama standing in the middle of the screen in full rhetorical flight. Seated behind him on one side is Biden, and on the other Pelosi. They’re positioned in such a way that they could pass for the warring angels of the President’s conscience. Pelosi: “Go for it! Spend like crazy! Do it, man! DO IT!!” Biden: [humming the wish-I-were-an-Oscar Mayer-wiener song].
9:22 We’re only four minutes into the speech, and Pelosi has begun flipping through her copy of the evening’s program. In Vegas, the odds of her sorting through her purse by the midway point drop to a tantalizing 7-2.
9:26 The President announces that an oversight committee monitoring stimulus spending will be led by Joe Biden – “because nobody messes with Joe.” As Congress applauds, Joe showcases the key tool in his oversight arsenal: the fact that no wrongdoing or mismanagement will be able to withstand the bright light of scrutiny coming from his teeth.
9:29 Obama assures Americans: “You can rely on the continued operation of our financial system.” Not exactly the aspirational and hopeful language of his campaign, is it? I can see his re-electon slogan already taking shape: “Obama 2012: Because all across America, oxygen is still plentiful and free.”
9:33 What a different atmosphere in the chamber compared to last year. By the time of his final State of the Union, George W. Bush’s approval numbers had declined into Nixon/Carter territory while his looks of bewilderment had climbed into the Reagan/Federline stratosphere. This is different. Despite the crisis, there’s genuine enthusiasm and applause. Also, complete sentences. It’s a win-win.
9:35 That said, call me nostalgic but I miss the Pelosi-Cheney slap fights.
9:37 If this speech were a movie, it’s pretty clear who the villain would be: bankers. Obama declares of his financial rescue efforts: “This is not about helping banks – it’s about helping people.” He vows that bankers won’t be allowed to buy fancy drapes or use private jets. In fact, if he gets his way, they’ll even be prevented by law from menacingly twirling their handlebar moustaches.
9:41 Pelosi? Totally scoping out the President’s ass. Check the tape.
9:44 “This is America – we don’t do what’s easy, we do what’s necessary to move this country forward.” Dear Mr. President: Your nation is home to a company that manufactures frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and markets them by claiming that their product “removes all the hassle” from making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As though people previously seeking such a sandwich would first have had to toil for hours in the jelly mines. And people actually buy this product. Believe me, sir: sometimes your country does what’s easy.
9:47 After a strong start, Biden has fallen woefully behind Pelosi in standing ovation reaction. Whole seconds now pass before the Vice-President joins the Speaker on his feet. Meanwhile, Pelosi is growing only more energetic, leaping up at the slightest mention of anything remotely not awful. America’s energy problems could be solved if only scientists could figure out how to harness the raw power of her sycophancy.
10:03 Another cut to Sully – maybe he can land this economy?
10:06 Getting close to wrapping things up, Obama arrives at his obligatory shout-outs to people in the crowd – like the bank president who shared his bonus with all his employees. It is commonplace now for Presidents to invite “special guests” that are linked in some way to the initiatives or themes presented in their address. In 2002, for instance, Hamid Karzai was seated next to Laura Bush in the gallery to symbolize efforts to root out the Taliban in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in 1999, Bill Clinton invited Peggy Haack, a child care provider from Wisconsin, to symbolize the fact he wanted to nail her.
10:21 CNN Analyst Roland Martin likens Obama’s ambition to Kanye West claiming that he was trying to make a record as good as Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life – ie. if he falls short, it’s still going to be a pretty good record. Picking up on the metaphor, Anderson Cooper asks if this means the Republicans are 50 Cent. The answer is drowned out by the sound of Tupac and Biggie rolling over in their graves (though only to reach for their guns).
10:24 The Republican “response” to Obama’s address is being delivered by Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana. After Michael Steele (the African-American named chairman of the Republican National Committee), Jindal, who is of Indian-American descent, is the second – or “other” – non-white Republican in America.
10:26 Well-kept hair. Exaggerated speaking style. Folksy stories about his pappy. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the Punjabi version of Enos from Dukes of Hazzard!
10:28 I find it hard to concentrate on what Jindal is saying, on account of how he’s saying it – like a school teacher trying to explain algebra to the class halfwit. Or like an infomercial host. Can’t believe I have the gall to complain about the deficit after years of runaway spending by my own party?? Wait, there’s more!! Act now and I’ll throw in some crass platitudes like “We believe Americans can do anything!!” and “Never forget: We are Americans!”