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State of the Union: Say What?

There were plenty of positive things to take away from the 2011 State of the Union tonight. Naturally, the vagueness and contradictions will just add to the political fodder and give everyone something to talk about for the next week or so. Taking a step back though from the specific policy references and calls for bipartisanship, let’s look at three quotes that made me squirm while watching this live:

“No single wall separates East and West…”

I’m sure there are some Israelis and Palestinians who would be quick to disagree with this generalization. Considering Sunday’s release of the Palestinian Papers – a comprehensive leak of documents from the last decade of negotiations between Israel and Palestine – there is a massive public relations challenge in each country involved in the peace talks to respond to the documents. Tunisia’s recent revolution managed to get some recognition in the speech, along with references to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan: Ignoring this crucial situation entirely was not the most strategic move.

“Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay.”

I agree with every comment in this statement, as the SOTU is constructed to appeal to all constituents. However, “we know that some of them are gay” could be the least eloquent way to refer to an issue that has been central to our social debate in the last two years. There were plenty of honorable and sane statements made supporting the repeal of DADT from politicians, soldiers, activists and various television personalities. This abrupt, one-sentence line was the best they could do? I agree with the intent, but I cringed at the brevity of such an emotionally charged statement. This repeal was a huge moment, yet all it merited was this sentence, followed by a one-sentence summary used as a transition into a call for greater ROTC and recruiting access on college campuses. Using the repeal of DADT to segue into college campus recruiting is a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?

“For some trips, it will be faster than flying — without the pat-down.”

Go ahead, choose to travel by train instead of flying. The security will be much more relaxed! Trains and subways have been a primary target for attacks in Europe and New York already. Sure, airport security is a pain, but an off-the-cuff remark about the low-security alternative doesn’t have me running to support the new light rail system in California.

Now, these are nothing more than a few excerpts from what was otherwise a relatively flat and unambitious speech – I’ll leave the specifics of his policy goals and political motivations for the cable TV pundits to analyze. Yet considering the amount of time we spend in the public relations field stressing over language and audience interpretation of any given message, I find myself surprised that the White House speechwriters couldn’t find a better way to convey these ideas. After all, this is the State of the Union and they devote a massive effort to editing and re-editing. Maybe it’s just easy to get caught up in the grand scheme of it all and forget about the specifics? I don’t have any experience in speech writing – I just like to believe that the characters on the The West Wing behave as their real-life counterparts do.*

What do you think? Is this overtly critical or were you taken aback at some of these as well?

*The video won’t embed here. But do yourself a favor and click the link and watch this clip. Trust me, it will be far better than anything else you see on television today.

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