Mathew Mackie

Gazing through the State of the Union address

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Mathew Mackie sat through the bizarre spectacle that was Obama’s last State of the Union address and got stuck on the furniture.

Today I broke my State of the Union Address virginity. Much like the other time I lost my virginity, it was filled with forced applause, vast confusion, angry defeated puzzlement and an appearance of the ex via astral projection. As I type this, I feel drained. I’m desperately reliving those turgid, shapeless minutes in an effort to find a raft of meaning among the rank orgasmic flood of guttural applause and masked malice.

For those who haven’t witnessed the State of the Union Address, the most fitting pop-cultural aphorism would be the Costanza family Festivus tradition of ‘airing grievances’ supported by the extremely biased vocalisation of a Jerry Springer audience.

“My Presidency was ruined by Rednecks.”

Prior to kick-off, there was towering hope of plans to solve the issues of minimum wage, gun control, immigration, or at the very least, a repeat of the Bader-Ginsburg booze powernap from last year. What was expected, above all, was the selfie-speech. This, after all, was Obama’s last meaningful platform to talk of what he wants.

We were transported to room wallpapered by conflict. A room where those who populated it greeted each other through teeth. To borrow a euphemism from a TBS regular, the main beverage on tap was “haterade”.

The vicious surface rancour was cut short by the emergence of a hairless imp, who presumably earns a living by yelling titles, but also wears the grimy ethereal vibe of a fictional serf chased out of whatever cupboard he inhabited to state the obvious.

The POTUS was here.

The featureless ghoul made way for the greying lion. Obama shook vast hands as he trudged deeper into the den, greeting those who were showing respect, but seeking blood. For those who didn’t want to wear his skin, it was a moment to loose those platitudes, honed in bathroom mirrors in preparation for that briefest moment you shared with POTUS; adults crippled with the childlike hope of a nod from Santa Claus. For the man who was met with an audible “we’ll talk about his later”, what a rush that’d be. The spouse would surely be the one who gets the most out of the confidence gleaned from that late evening at work.

As the POTUS stepped the platform, the murmured question barely sat below the surface.

How would he handle it? Would it be a waffling traipse down the street of his better achievements, or would he go the full-Costanza? As it turns out, it was both. We witnessed the Obama eclipse. We were visited by the well-dressed empathetic dinner guest the world knows and also by the Barack he is at home, the tuxedo of wordsmithery crumpled on the floor in favour of dangling, naked statements.

The first of which was Obama’s boldest, and the most well-received policy under his stewardship. A promise to keep the speech short. This, for some reason, cranked the volume of adulation past eleven, as feet were rose to, hands met in conflict, speaking agreeance.

What the fuck. I almost expected a cameo from Steve the Security guard. Following a strange crash zoom to the man who sat behind Obama, we were underway.

It was strange to see Obama in this state. A lucid wordsmith of the highest order, probably America’s best wordy prez since Jack Kennedy, now convincing those in straight English, those who he has been unable to change, to just do it. A man with such a command of the vernacular, walking the lines of the platitude, vowing to enact a raft of intangible things in his final year.

Change. Inspiration. The subjective power of being ‘Right’.

A titan who spoke in basics. Extolling the ‘why’ but not the ‘how’.

Whilst Obama spoke about crossing the borders of the thing called “change”, I had an acid flashback to the Headmaster’s speech at school. Everyone had their listening face on. They were there, because they had to be. (Shoutout to the man who decided to NOT applaud Biden’s Cancer research push in favour of his phone. Represent.)

Saying that, there were strange outward displays of support. I’ve never seen so many people leave their seat before finding it again. It was leg-day in the Capitol, with Obama running them through a ruthless calf-blaster. Up-down-up-down. As Obama bigged up his minimalisation of the unemployment figure, (which again brought in the bassline kudos) it was supported by some woman aping Kate Winslet’s wingspan in Titanic. “I’m flying, Barack!”

The amount of stamina exhausted in the room boggles the mind. I clapped loudly through my Nan’s tapdancing concert, and that was hard enough.

While Obama reviewed the efforts behind the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision to allow equal marriage rights, the camera panned across those who did not agree with the decision, masterfully handled by the director, who may have been referencing Sergio Leone. The antagonists were all kept in extreme close-up, features aghast with a complete lack of emotion, eyes darting, hands creeping along waists to loose political weapons.

For the first thirty minutes of the speech, the equation seemed to be: People sit down. Obama sentence. Applause. People stand up. My scribbled notes yelled back at me: WHY DO THEY EVEN HAVE SEATS?

Then things got weird. Obama explained the United State’s greatest fear: economy change. Obama warned us of a robot future, for they could replace us at work via the witchcraft of automation. He also bizarrely dipped the metatarsal into Marxism by bigging up the rights of the worker over those of the company.

‘Equal pay for equal work’ sounds similar to those who give according to their means. Which is fine, but this is ‘murica. How many boats will that float? Obama then twisted the ethos of the old enemy, popping American Mustard on that manifesto with the American concepts of hard work, apple pie and the fair shot.

A massive, historically important comparison. One of which will embolden ties, whitewash 60 years of fear, extend an olive branch to those who aren’t so different after all. Yes? Applause? No.

Cue the crickets.

The Cold War did get a run, though, that fossil would be pleased to get a mention, even if it’s wet nurse has to explain it to it. The United States beating the Russians to the Moon brought more applause as did Obama’s call to end the Embargo with Cuba, featuring an admission of error, claiming that “it didn’t spread democracy”. Fair kop.

Then, at the halfway point, the chattering nasally tones of the past gatecrashed the party. The spectre of George W. Bush’s presidency broke through the collar of democracy’s shirt and entered poor Barack’s brain, taking control of his tongue.

Obama suddenly spoke in pointed blunt terms. “10,000 airstrikes” as a proud figure, as was the “rooting out” “hunting” “destroying” “eliminating”. He even pushed for a “vote”, which would ostensibly greenlight total military action against ISIL, because it’d pass. Da fuq. His support for this route of action was in the results of the past, prompting those who refused this as the best option to “…ask Osama Bin Laden”

Zat you, Dubya?

The effigy of the singular boogieman was lit. “First Al Qaeda, now ISIL”. The one that’d kill us all, if we don’t get him first. Barack continued, stripping his language far lower than Dubya, almost sounding like a twelve-year old doing a school project on his country:

“The United States is the most powerful nation in the world. It’s not even close” then “The finest fighting force in the history of the world” at this point, I expected guns to be fired into the roof; which paled in comparison to the reaction of his next statement. “…they don’t go to Beijing or Moscow to lead, they call us” which gratingly, brought a wry halting laugh from someone. Cue the goosebumps.

Barack mentioned a strategy in place “with all the powers within our own power structure” without mentioning what it was. He hinted at diplomacy, partnering with local forces to remove the wrongdoers, which somehow differs from policies enacted from Vietnam to Afghanistan. He vowed democracy above all else, stating that we should not “…ignore the rest of the world…unless we’re killing terrorists”.

Obama closes, back in control of his empathetic tone, extolling the acceptance of all, and how the vandalism of mosques, the spread of racism, hate and inequality reduces what people think of America, and he’s right. Where’s that America? Barack answers for us, casting vast eloquent stereotype. The teacher coming in early, the worker staying back, the student/dreamer past bedtime, those who have no lobby in Washington. He vows to cure AIDS & Malaria in his last year, because why not.

It made me believe.

The thing is. The speech is a faff. I love Obama. He’s the world’s favourite Prez. Ask anyone. But does he expect these tall words to somehow erode the walls that he has been unable to scale? Is he expecting a Hollywood moment, where the antagonist slowly claps at the end of the movie, having been won over by the narrative?

It confused and irked my bits. Grand plans etched, but not written down. How much of this bold naive plan does Obama truly hope to achieve?

The whole situation perhaps best summed up by the silent pained face of the woman in the red dress:

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Well Said.

 

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  • Caro

    Can’t agree with you Matthew. I thought this speech marked an important point in history, where ordinary people are starting to have a voice, encouraging them to keep going, to stand up and be counted, to participate in the world that we want to create. No one is immune. The language may not have been policy driven but it sure was heart driven – and there’s nothing wrong with that. The world needs more of it. The fact that a President could speak of “unconditional love” is a first I think. And while many may not yet get it, I think this speech will be viewed in history as one of the greats.

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