I thought Spiro Agnew had a point that night in Iowa when he blasted guys like Huntley and Brinkley and Cronkite for their "instant analyses" of presidential speeches. (Full disclosure: I'd been drinking and wasn't even in the Des Moines hall where the veep ranted. I was at Joe's in Iowa City, recuperating from a day of reporting the public university industry's plans to slip another inch into the body of taxpayers. So I had to watch Spiro on Joe's black and white teevee set.)
Spiro hated television news for the wrong reasons. Because teevee hated his meal ticket, Nixon. Logic dictates that we should hate it is because it is a community of celebrity thespians posing as an information source.
This is never more apparent than on days of high political ceremony.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The American public will get a competing mix of rhetoric and imagery in President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday, a speech that offers a heavy dose on the economy even as it plays out against a visual backdrop dominated by the current national debate over guns.
Please note the phrases "rhetoric and imagery" and "visual backdrop."
First lady Michelle Obama will sit with the parents of a Chicago teenager shot and killed just days after she performed at the president's inauguration. Twenty-two House members have invited people affected by gun violence...That confluence of message and symbolism illustrates where Obama is in his presidency following his re-election.
When presidential speeches deal with large problems, they ought to be analyzed, both instantly and more reflectively. That's one of the ways we keep ourselves from being flim-flammed. But how the Hell do you analyze the face of an aggrieved mother, one eye teared up with honest grief and the other shining in the glory of being on national television? With Michelle. Herself!
You don't analyze it of course. You just hope your image consultants are correct in predicting that it will persuade x per cent more of x demographic to jump on your bandwagon. Or that they're incorrect, if you happen to be on the other side.
The result is a cesspool dunking of logical thought processes -- of sober discussion of what's wrong and what might fix it at what cost. One other result among decent folk is revulsion at the exploitation of ordinary people -- the real and imagined victims -- paraded before the closeup lenses to stir emotion in advancement of a political agenda.
This little essay probably ought to be written tomorrow, after the Obama performance. It is not because the ravenous goat of teevee time-filling has already begun analyzing the president's undelivered monologue. Further, it has the complete lowdown on the rebuttals from Rubio and Paul. Analyses don't get much more instant than that, do they Spiro?
As your candidate for president, I offer a partial solution. I shall decline to contribute to a great national psychodrama, the annual posture-fest posing as serious debate about how America should administer its affairs. At no time will I address the congress in the presence of television cameras. I will simply obey Article 2, Section 3, of the Constitution of the United States.
He (the president) shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
He need not do it in a Barnum and Bailey extravaganza, in the Big Top. under the lights. He doesn't even have to do it in person. Or annually.
I will do it as often as necessary, in writing with annotated footnotes to verify or explain my factual allegations. No pictures. None. Copies will be freely available to every citizen -- from crazed bag ladies on down to electronic news personalities and congresspersons.
I guess it is another way of intoning my own "I have a Dreeeeeeem." I dream of an America where citizens sit around the coffee tables with policy proposals in front of them, in large type black and white. They quietly read and think and react, "if...then..it follows."
Should they find then "then" reasonable, they applaud and support me. Should they find it otherwise they deem me full of shit and vote for someone else.
It might help, but, of course, it might not. We should try it anyway, if only to spare ourselves the annual aesthetic embarrassment of nationally televised tears soaking through the first lady's bodice.