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By Bob Harris
PRESIDENT CLINTON'S Feb. 4 State of the Union address to Congress focused on education, encouraging every family to follow Hillary's example and read to their kids, although he didn't specify which futures contracts Chelsea liked best. The president also advocated zero tolerance for schoolyard guns and drugs--apparently those should stay in the CIA, where they belong--and called for serious, bipartisan campaign finance reform. Never mind that new Starbucks franchise in the East Wing.
Clinton didn't say anything unexpected--his only break from the text was to tell the GOP that he knows life is a bitch--but the speech was still a major womping deal. If you know what to watch for, you can scope the whole political year.
State of the Union addresses are always rife with lines expressing political positions as vapid aphorisms; e.g., "This Congress should not engage in child cannibalism, because [fist pounding podium] . . America . . should . . . not . . eat . . the future."
Next comes a 30-second stroke break, during which everybody who agrees hops up and applauds as if Jehovah One just read the author's preface to the Book of Life, and everyone who disagrees smiles tolerantly as though someone else's 6-year-old just blew school glue through his nose.
The more folks standing, the more likely a particular bill will become law. This is Bob's Big Rule of Bootie: butts in the air, high fives a-slappin'; butts in the chair, ain't gonna happen. Exceptions to the Bootie Rule occur when the public passionately wants something that the corporations abhor, in which case the obvious presidential lip service is received with thunderously facetious support.
This year's best example was campaign finance reform: Clinton, who has more dirty money than Papillon, vigorously called for cutting off the lifeblood of everyone in the room. All butts arose, but these asses lie. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance act is toast.
Still, if you watched the speech closely, you learned the Balanced Budget Amendment doesn't have the votes, public school "choice" does, aid to legal immigrants will probably be restored, and a whole lot of other stuff that will definitely affect your life.
You don't exactly need a big throbbing lobe to tally this.
Just a passing interest.
I watched Clinton's speech from the studios of Politically Incorrect. P.I. might just be the most important show on TV, for two reasons: It's one of the few shows where actual debate occurs, and it's the only one where genuine progressives are respectfully allowed to speak their peace. Frankly, I'd like to be on the show someday, so I thought I'd go hang out and be friendly.
It turned out that P.I. was preparing for a special live show to follow Clinton's address and the scheduled rebuttal from J. C. Watts, the GOP lawn jockey du jour. So everybody had to watch the speeches on the monitors and wait.
It was less than 20 minutes before the audience lost interest.
Granted, Clinton's a lousy speechifier. We've all seen the lip-biting pain-feeler deal before, and the guy's answering machine probably has a 10-point plan for how he'll return the call. Still, he can declare a nuclear war, so you probably at least want to make sure he's lucid.
However, P.I.'s studio audience--a reasonably hip group--got so fidgety waiting for Elvis to leave the building that the producers actually had to pass out candy to keep people in their seats. Amazing.
The networks couldn't toss a similar smelt to the folks at home, so they delivered up the next best thing--the new O.J. verdict. The P.I. audience immediately began cheering and making animal sounds. So much for minutiae like pending constitutional amendments and the restructuring of Social Security and the public school system.
Instead, we all watched (through our TVs) Peter Jennings watching (through his monitor) a reporter watching (through a window) another reporter listen-ing (through a small square speaker) to the announcement of a financial judgment (yet to be determined). All because a guy you've never met is accused of killing two other people you never met in a place you've probably never been and will never go, a crime that will never affect you in any way other than to provide a thrilling taste of trickling blood.
To its singular credit, P.I. treated O.J. as a minor amusement. Everybody else--the media and public together--have made O.J. bigger than the president of the United States.
The Scoop is archived at www.goodthink.com.
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From the February 13-19, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent
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