Like my esteemed fellow analyst Hunter Baker, I did not watch the State of the Union speech last night. (I did pop in every few minutes for a look, and then quickly returned to my Tivo viewing of NCIS, as no group of terrorists or extraterrestrials seemed to be invading the House chamber, nor did Teddy Kennedy's fake body begin to melt and reveal once and for all that he had been replaced by a robot, nor did the President say anything the slightest bit unexpected). These speeches are pure political theater, but what is worse is that they are very bad theater, having become extremely boring and predictable.
Look, people, nobody except politicians does these laundry-list speeches any more. Even speakers at local Rotary Club meetings use visual aids and new technology. I am not going to watch these presidential speeches, and neither is anybody else who has any kind of a life, until the people involved make them more interesting. That's a given.
And it would be very easy to do, with a little imagination.
For example, every good speech is easily livened up by a nice PowerPoint presentation. So, when the President says, "And we will be there until the people of Iraq are truly free!" (half of audience whoops madly, other half sits glumly and taps their fingertips together in sarcastic parody of applause), why not have a slide showing a graph of the amount of freedom in Iraq in 1988, 1994, 2000, 2006, etc., with the columns made up of, say, little inked fingerprints representing the will of the Iraqi people? Or, when the President says that we've given $X million dollars to help the people harmed by last fall's hurricanes, he could click away at the screen, showing images of devastation and then noble federal officials helping out, and graphs in which the bars are composed of piles of dollar bills or loaves of bread or whatnot.
That would be much more like it.
Another nice effect, and one which would emphasize the President's role as both leader and team player, would be for him to have one of those big, clear plastic boards behind him, on which he could tape photos and write with a dry-erase marker, like a police captain talking to his team as they chase down a serial killer. Viewers would be fascinated as they watched the board fill up with words and pictures, and there would be great suspense as we wondered whether that snapshot on the upper right which is hanging precariously and even fluttering in the breeze from the air conditioning was going to fall down, and whether the President would leave up the phrase about health care expenditures or erase it in order to write something about China. Now that's theater!
Of course, there are huge possibilities for the use of an HDTV screen with appropriate images, the way TV anchors now do things, but I suspect that only a politician of preternatural humility would risk having the audience's attention diverted so fully from the main event, which is of course the speech and the President's role as big shot. So I think they'll shy away from that for a good long while. However, there are other things which could fit the need, including simple activities such as the President using a laser pointer to shine a red light in the eyes of inattentive members of the opposition party. More theatrical effects, such as balloon drops, etc., might be deemed inappropriate to the occasion, but I think that as people got more used to the reality of the speech as political theater, such things would become increasingly acceptable. While discussing prices of farm commodities, for example, it would show the President as a highly knowledgeable guy if he were to make those comments while milking a cow.
I've got literally hundreds of ideas like this, folks.
Of course, I usually get paid a fortune for great advice of this sort, but I'm offering it gratis in a spirit of charity and a sincere desire to raise the level of political discourse in this nation. I am always available for consultations, however, and would be happy to discuss this further with the President or any interested state governors. Just let me know, OK?