Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Remember to Count the Buts

The punditocracy is abuzz with anticipation of President Barack Obama's 2010 State of the Union Address, scheduled to take place Wednesday night at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

(I will be in Washington, too, but won't be watching the SOTU.  Instead, I will be at Ford's Theatre to see a play about the Lincoln-Douglas debates called The Rivalry, written by Norman Corwin.  Remember when politicians really engaged their audiences with extended and articulate argumentation?  You'd have to be old enough to have seen Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas to say "yes.")

Continuing pre-game coverage of the State of the Union sent me back to what I wrote about Bill Clinton's 1996 State of the Union message for The Metro Herald, 14 years ago next week.  One paragraph leaped out at me:

Unfortunately, Clinton does not mean what he says. When he appears to embrace conservative -- even libertarian -- principles, he always has a fallback to traditional, failed liberal policies. In his State of the Union message, Clinton used the word "but" 27 times in 65 minutes. Each time he made a grand statement that conservatives and libertarians could readily and happily agree with -- such as "the era of big government is over" -- he qualified it with a "but." Each "but" meant that "we liberals recognize that conservatives have won over public opinion, so we're telling you we agree with them, even though we're sticking to the same policies we've advocated for thirty years."
Although Obama lacks Clinton's deft political skills (Obama is not nearly enough like a chameleon to match Bill Clinton in that regard), it may be useful to count the "buts" in the President's speech.

In fact, why not make a drinking game out of it? Instead of taking a shot every time President Obama says "Hi, Bob!" (an unlikely prospect, in any case), swing one back whenever he says "but" or "however."

You'll be lucky to leave your SOTU-watching party on your own two legs.

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