I heard Fran Lebowitz speak at Massey Hall last week about how much she hates strollers, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and audiences with low standards. She blames the latter on the Oprah effect—the impulse of the modern American audience to rise in applause of anything and everything. Nowhere in history (besides, perhaps, on the Oprah Winfrey show) was this phenomenon more pervasive than last night during Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address. Except for Ted Nugent or John Boehner, the live audience was perpetually on its feet. Even Paul Ryan couldn’t resist applauding this one liner — that or he really enjoys veiled digs at his own policy proposals:
“I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement. Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep – but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.”
Three more observations about the State of the Union:
1. Boehner’s awkward stoicism (and pink polka-dot tie) will go down in history for longest bout of forced politeness: the political sequel, you might say, to Chris Brown’s snub of Frank Ocean on Grammy night. Something the Speaker of the House actually did stand up for?
“Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda.”
2. The most surprising moment of the night came not when Obama said the word “gay,” which he’s been doing a lot lately, or even—God forbid—”science”—but when he revealed his plans to rip off the Maclean’s University Guide:
“Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”
3. There were a lot of predictions leading to the SOTU address. To call them that is kind of a stretch. We all knew in advance what was going to happen: $9 minimum wage, jobs jobs jobs, climate change (though I doubt anyone predicted Obama’s promotion of John McCain to chief environmentalist). The best remarks Obama made were on the subject of gun control, because his partisan message—to ban “massive ammunition magazines” and promote stricter background checks—wasn’t his only message. The notion that those personally wounded by gun violence deserve the chance (or in his words “a vote”) to effect change was, I imagine, moving for both political camps. It helped, too, that the wounded were sitting in the audience.
“It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.
Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.
One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.
Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.
Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.
The families of Newtown deserve a vote.
The families of Aurora deserve a vote.
The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.