Last night I had the privilege of attending the State of the Union as my mother’s guest. Of all the public speeches, campaign rallies and inaugural addresses, the State of the Union is one speech I have always wanted to witness. It is nearly impossible to completely capture on television the nuances associated with the delivery of and responses to this address. There are simply not enough cameras to catch the varying reactions of such a diverse group of attendees. How often is it that nearly every member of the federal government is in one room at the same time all listening and reacting to the same words? Needless to say, I was happy to get the chance to fill in and attend President Obama’s second State of the Union.
The evening began with a buffet-style dinner for the Senators and their guests complete with the traditional fare of chicken pot pie. Apparently, this is a dish that Senators have been dining on for years prior to the State of the Union. Savoring the spirit of bipartisanship, we sat at a table with Senator John McCain and Cindy McCain, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Evan Bayh and Susan Bayh.
Following my private tour of the Senate Chamber for a close up look at my Mom’s desk, it was time to head over to the House. Guests of the Senators were escorted to the Gallery past the Hazmat squad decked out in their space suits.
Perched above the House floor, I stood and watched as Speaker Pelosi announced the Senate, Supreme Court, First Lady and President into the chamber. As the President began to speak, I was in a position to see members from all three branches of government as they individually processed his words.
From a policy perspective, I was inspired by President Obama’s proposal to support small businesses. It is my hope that these measures will spark an Innovation Movement as described by Tom Friedman in the following NY Times Op Ed on January 24:
My favorite moment, however, was listening to President Obama celebrate the First Lady’s commitment to tackling America’s childhood obesity epidemic. Despite the cynicism that pervades our media driven culture, I still believe in the capacity of our government to make change in the face of adversity. When I think about children who are handed a diabetes diagnosis that could have been prevented it makes me angry and profoundly sad. Our children are developing type 2 diabetes because they are obese. This is America and we need to do better for our children and we can do better.
The pundits will surely focus on why the Republicans stood and clapped during some parts of the speech, but not others. Commentators will infer and split hairs and question whether President Obama emphasized all the right points. Talking heads will ask whether he was justified in his criticism of the Supreme Court and show split screens of his remarks and the facial expressions of the Justices. I expected that getting to see those expressions firsthand would be the most compelling takeaway. It turns out that the most treasured souvenir from this experience is my renewed sense of possibility. I feel hopeful that Americans from both sides of the political aisle can come together and tackle our country’s most pressing problem. We must work together because this is OUR Union and OUR children are waiting.