The Eternal Ennui
The same players, the same games....
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Here is how the Associated Press frames tonight’s State of the Union address:
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is ready to offer a reassuring assessment of the nation’s condition rather than roll out flashy policy proposals as he delivers his second State of the Union address seeking to overcome pessimism in the country and concerns about his own leadership.
His speech before a politically divided Congress comes Tuesday night as the nation struggles to make sense of confounding cross-currents at home and abroad — economic uncertainty, a wearying war in Ukraine, growing tensions with China among them — and warily sizes up Biden’s fitness for a likely reelection bid.
I published earlier in the week a smart email from a reader about the relative lack of enthusiasm in some quarters for SOTUs, and it is safe to say based on the media coverage and the ratings that this is not going to be some hugely galvanizing/transformational event tonight, even if it is clear that Team Biden, including the president, have worked hard on both the speech itself and the surrounding efforts (both traditional and modern) to rev up interest and amplify the message. For instance, the unusually early release of the expected guests in the box of the First Lady (including Bono, Paul Pelosi, and a lot of wonderful “real” people) is a smart tactical step. [You can read the full list here.]
I think the perceived (actual?) ennui over the speech fits into a larger context defined by the inability of any of the major actors to change the fundamentals – about themselves, their poll standing, or the facts on the ground.
In other words, the cast of characters, the plotlines, and the audience reactions are all a series of re-runs on a loop.
For example, even amidst a series of substantive and political wins for Joe Biden and a thrasher of positive economic news (consume the Washington Post’s essential read on the state of that), Democratic voters don’t want a second term and the president’s scores on job approval and other metrics stay just about the same. The rhetoric from the White House, just about the same. The rhythms of the president’s days, just about the same. His tactics and strategies for dealing with MAGA’s hold over the Republican Party, just about the same. The themes coming off of Hunter’s laptop, just about the same. His cabinet, exactly the same. Sure, he’s got a fresh chief of staff, but not one who was picked to create new…anything.
Yes, there is a new speaker of the House, but he is precisely as exciting as Mitch McConnell, and he grapples with his divided party (which has no consensus or real plans on the economy, the deficit, taxes, Russia, gun safety, immigration, China, tech, etc) and with Donald Trump’s role in the same plodding, piecemeal way we have seen the GOP deal with all this for years now.
Trump himself, as has been widely noted, lives in his own loop, having gone from a quirky and surprising American Original on the political stage to someone whose every action and utterance is so predictable he could be in the cast of Season Three of “Emily in Paris.”
Hakeem Jeffries is new, but he seems as interesting as….Chuck Schumer.
Mr. Excitement, Ron DeSantis, largely stays off of the national stage, but/and even he is zzzzz in the most fundamental ways. When was the last time he did something that actually surprised you (for good or ill), rather than just simply run one of his three same old same old plays?
The reason, obviously, the George Santos story continues to have legs (at least with the press; I doubt the public at large gives a rip about him) is that it is an utterly different narrative, allowing us to escape the rut.
Same with the balloon. For a few days.
The wrong track poll numbers are the same. Putin and the war, the same. Musk is now boring (if he was ever interesting). Democrats continue to mock Speaker McCarthy (keeping Republicans united in DC). Republicans continue to mock President Biden (keeping Democrats united in DC). Perceived “saviors” Glenn Youngkin and Tim Scott are nice guys…who are in fact not all that interesting.
And the whole narrative is still framed by the real prospect that we are about to have a Biden-Trump rematch, the ultimate manifestation of the phenomenon about which I speak – and why voters in the main find that prospect as disheartening as it is imponderable.
Let’s hope, for tonight at least, Joe Biden has something up his sleeve to liven things up – a dramatic policy proposal, some olive branch, maybe, at least, a little samba.
If not, the new mantra of our old politics will be reinforced, yet again: The more things stay the same, the more they stay the same.
(I wrote this from scratch this morning, after consuming a lot of media, communicating with a lot of sources…and finding very little new and exciting…)
Now, for something lively, you can join me and John Ellis tonight to talk about all of this!
TO RESERVE YOUR SPOT ON THE ZOOM TONIGHT AT 6PM ET, CLICK HERE.
* The Washington Post’s Chinese balloon update is delightfully comprehensive if you need to catch up on the latest.