If the State of the Union was more like reality TV

RANCHO SANTA FE, CA., January 23, 2011 – Tuesday night, Senators, Congressmen, Supreme Court Justices, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a few guests (usually invited to be used as emotional props) will join President Obama for his third State of the Union address.  The format is predictable and boring.  Everyone will dutifully rise and applaud wildly at the President’s entrance.  He will make his way down the aisle at an interminably slow pace that would embarrass a lame tortoise, shaking hands with everyone within reach and pretending to like even his most ardent opponents.  Upon being introduced, he will approach the podium to another thunderous round of applause that will last for an absurdly long time.  Then, the President will deliver his carefully scripted, politically-driven State of the Union address; glancing between Teleprompters as if he were watching a tennis match.  While we will be spared the spectacle of Nancy Pelosi doing her impression of a trained seal when the President even clears his throat, he will still receive a standing ovation from his Democratic colleagues for almost every point he makes.  Even the Republicans will occasionally be forced to join in the celebration although they’ll do their best to try to look disgusted the rest of the time.  When it’s all over, pundits from both sides will provide us with their translation of what the President just said … as if he had been speaking in a foreign language we didn’t understand.  If the government didn’t control the FCC, these speeches would never be aired.  What if we reshaped the State of the Union to reflect the flair of reality TV and let the audience participate in some way?  Maybe people would actually watch the address instead of changing channels to see Snooki getting arrested.

For starters, let’s eliminate Teleprompters and the use of notes.  Contestants on American Idol don’t get to use a monitor or sheet music.  If they forget the words, that’s part of the fun!  Republicans and Democrats could wear tribal buffs just like on Survivor.  Best of all:  Maury Povich could hook the President up to a lie detector to make sure he was telling the truth.  In the end, the audience could call an 800 number or text a code to cast their votes for their favorite issue, and the government would be compelled to fix the top two.  Oh sure, there wouldn’t be any way of screening people to determine whether they were legitimate citizens who were of voting age, but it doesn’t appear that we do that in our regular elections.

We could also eliminate the useless pomp-and-circumstance at the beginning as well as all of the needless displays of sycophantic support.  We could sell the time we saved to advertisers and use the proceeds to help reduce the national debt (think Super Bowl-type revenue).  So without further adieu, I think the show would go like this.

[Stage direction]  Opening scene and music:  fade from black to a close-up of the President with a medley of Hail to the Chief and The Star-Spangled Banner.  Hold the camera on the President as he asks the audience to join him in saying The Pledge of Allegiance (use a cue card to remind him to place his hand over his heart).  Fade to a close-up of the United States flag as the audience joins in The Pledge.  Pull back to a long shot that shows the audience as The Pledge concludes.  Return to a close-up of the President (pre-wired to Maury’s lie detector).

The President begins:

“Hi, everybody.  Wow!  A lot of you are new.  We really took a shellacking back in November.  Like any Administration, we’ve had some highs and lows.  It’s a lot tougher being President than I thought.  In the future, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to attempt on-the-job training like I did.  I probably underestimated how hard it would be to actually deliver everything I promised when I was just trying to get elected.  I also didn’t think that so many people would remember my promises and hold me to them.

“I guess I blew the transparency thing by not producing my birth certificate as soon as it was requested.  Had I known what a pain in the neck those birthers would be, I’d have just given a copy of my records to the press.  It would have saved a ton of time and money, and it might have even saved a few Congressional seats for my Party.

“The bipartisan thing went south as well.  I thought Nancy was going to ‘drain the swamp,’ but instead, she refilled it … and Harry did the same thing in the Senate.  Thanks, guys!  Your closed-door sessions and incomprehensible legislative bills all reflected negatively on me.  Now, I’ve got to spend the next two years campaigning for re-election rather than just one of them.  How am I supposed to have any meaningful time left to be the Leader of the Free World?

“One promise we did keep was the one about accountability.  We held the Republicans accountable for everything.  While I singled out President Bush, the rest of you got a lot of mileage out of the ‘Party of No’ theme.  Then, the Tea Party picked up steam (no pun intended) and we started to hold them accountable, too!  It’s a good thing because I’m starting to get some pushback for blaming Bush, and people are starting to realize that our Party was in control of the House and Senate when a lot of the legislation was passed that contributed to our economic collapse.

“And don’t even bring up the closing of Guantanamo.  After winning the Nobel Peace Prize in my first 12 days in office, I was feeling a little full of myself when I committed to close Gitmo by the start of the next year.  Of course, I had about three or four target dates for passing Health Care Reform as well.”   [At this point, the President covers his microphone and asks me if it’s still okay to use the word “target” in that sense.  I assure him that it’s okay, and he continues.]

“I had my staff put together a piece called PROMISES KEPT The First Two Years in Office and had it blasted out via e-mail under Vice President Biden’s signature.  I didn’t want it to look like I was tooting my own horn.

“It starts with one last shot at blaming the Bush Administration although that ship has probably sailed.  It mentions that I inherited two wars, an economy in freefall, record deficits, and a health care system in crisis but that we’ve made an incredible amount of progress over the past two years and laid a new foundation for growth while building an economy that works for all Americans.  [Red lights begin to flash and a siren goes off to remind the President that he’s hooked to a lie detector.  When he regains his composure, he continues.]

“PROMISES KEPT cites The Recovery Act as being the ‘largest infrastructure investment since President Eisenhower, the largest educational investment since President Johnson, and the largest clean-energy bill ever.’  We say that it’s created or saved as many as 3.7 million jobs [the lights and sirens barely start before the President nervously adds] … since no one can either prove or disprove that.  [The lights and sirens immediately stop.]

“Then, it highlights Wall Street Reform.  In that area, we gave broader, somewhat undefined regulatory power to agencies that oversee Wall Street in an attempt to stop Wall Street’s ‘shadowy’ practices.  Of course, these are the same agencies that had audited Bernie Madoff for years without detecting that anything was wrong, but we felt that rewarding them with more power might build their confidence.  We would have addressed the Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac problems that contributed so substantially to the economic meltdown, but their home offices weren’t on Wall Street [the lights and sirens begin to go off, but the President quickly adds] … and their supporters are part of our constituency.

“My Administration deserves credit for reducing taxes for 95 percent of working families under The Recovery Act, preventing a middle-class tax increase that no one was pursuing, and extending unemployment benefits to those who didn’t benefit from one of the 3.7 million jobs we supposedly created or saved.  We’re not sure that most middle-class Americans really feel like they benefited from The Recovery Act, but they’ll just have to take our word for it.  I think we did do some good when it comes to Credit Card Reform as well … although again, I don’t think it really changed anyone’s life in a noticeable way.

“In the area of Clean Energy Reform, we set new standards for emissions and fuel efficiency and wrote a lot of rebate checks for thermopane windows and golf carts.  It’s the other type of ‘Gulf’ that hampered our energy initiative.  We floundered so much with the BP oil spill that it took away our ability to keep bringing up Katrina.  That was a huge political loss for us. 

“Then we stepped in and saved America’s automobile industry.  [As the lights and sirens go off, the President says] … Okay, enough with the lights and sirens.  I get it!  We threw a lot of taxpayer money at General Motors and Chrysler only to delay their bankruptcies.  Then, we ripped off the secured debt holders and turned over a large portion of ownership to the unions that delivered money and votes to our campaigns.

“Let me be clear.  We did do some good things when it comes to Health Care Reform.  [The President instinctively flinches, but the lights and sirens remain off as the President becomes more comfortable in managing the format.]  Based on the way we passed it, it probably should have been called the Proctology Exam Act.  I know that there’s enough pork in the bill to spackle your arteries and that we should have addressed tort reform, but I really do believe that eliminating exclusions for pre-existing conditions and closing the donut hole for seniors were good for the people.

“I also think that ending our combat mission in Iraq was good as well.  While we never found weapons of mass destruction over there, I really can’t find fault with deposing a dictator who had killed hundreds of thousands of his own citizens.  But it’s time they run their own country.  If they blow it again, I don’t think we should be so quick to bail them out.”

“We passed the new Strategic Arms and Reduction Treaty (START) because we could.  We just leveraged the Republican’s one-dimensional focus on renewing the Bush tax cuts.  Supporting us on START was more than a fair trade from their perspective, and it gave us something we could claim as a political victory … and after November, my Administration needed a win.  The reality is that the Russians gave up a bunch of obsolete equipment, and we damaged ourselves and our allies by sacrificing elements of our missile defense capabilities.  But as I said, we needed to improve our numbers in the polls.

“Our strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan aren’t working, so I’m not going to pretend they are.  We’re throwing a lot of taxpayer money into a political abyss.  I’m really not sure what to do.  If I call for a withdrawal on a specific date, I’ll look more naïve than Christine O’Donnell in a campaign ad.  If I step up our investment in troops and money, I’d have a greater chance of reelection in 2012 running as a Republican.  Frankly, I’m open to suggestions.

“Well, they’re telling me I’ve got to rap this up.  I’ll just say we’ve done some good things when it comes to student loans and educational benefits for GIs.  We politicized the repeal of ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ so we could take credit for it even though it had been ruled ‘unconstitutional’ before we passed the legislation.  Other than that, we continued to neglect those who serve in the military.  But we did pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women challenge unfair pay practices, and that was a good thing.

All in all … it’s been a learning experience.  I’d probably get a lot more done in the next two years if I wasn’t going to be so busy running for re-election, but that’s how things are in politics.   Anyway, thanks for your support and I hope you’ll support our show’s sponsor as well:  GE … they bring good things to hype.”

[Stage direction] Voice over with trailer at the bottom of the screen:  “Call 1-800-BAD-IDEA or text SOTU and then press 1 for Close Guantanamo, 2 for The Recovery Act, 3 for Wall Street Reform, 4 for Tax Cuts, 5 for Credit Card Reform, 6 for Clean Energy, 7 for Rebuilding the Automobile Industry, 8 for Educational Investment, 9 for ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell,’ and 10 for Fair Pay … followed by the pound sign.”

Note to readers before you comment:  the article was about the State of the Union address.  It just so happens that the current President is a Democrat.  If it offends you, just substitute the name “Bush” for “Obama” and switch the words “Democrat” and “Republican” before you critique the premise.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.


This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, The Common Sense Czar, in the Communities Section of The Washington Times.