CSotD: Land of Confusion

Cartoon coverage of last night’s State of the Union Address began in advance, and Scott Stantis (Counterpoint) echoed the Clay Bennett cartoon featured here yesterday: The State of the Union is disunion.

Reasonable people can disagree, but, then again, reasonable people can also agree, and, while Stantis and Bennett are from opposite sides of the aisle, neither is a fringe-dweller, so perhaps their unanimity on this point is unsurprising.

But in the build-up to the speech, there were other predictions and analyses that prompted additional expectations.

Jeff Stahler (AMS) had suggested a difference between the substance of the as-yet-unheard speech and reality. It’s not that he was calling the president a liar — We’ll get to that — but it carries a reasonable pair of questions: “What did you expect?” and “So what?”

Well, so what? What did you expect?

The only speech I can think of that included stark realism was Lyndon Johnson’s March 31, 1968 announcement of his intentions to open peace talks with Hanoi with a bombing halt, and the realism came at the end, when he stunned the nation:

Such surprises are rare: You have to be naive in the extreme not to expect a certain amount of positive spin, not just in political speeches but in wedding toasts and funeral orations.

There’s little to remark upon, then, in Politifact’s checks of both Biden’s SOTU speech and Sarah Sanders’ GOP response. They both presented things as they wished them to be seen.

So what? What did you expect?

Though, as Ann Telnaes points out, there is a difference between analyzing a speech for factualness and analyzing it for tone and meaning. Sanders wasn’t exactly Little Mary Sunshine, larding her speech not with rebuttals but with accusations and insults, then declaring “The dividing line in America is no longer right or left. The choice is between normal or crazy,” after which she wandered off into a bizarrely irrelevant recollection of how much our GIs in Iraq loved Donald Trump, justifying Telnaes’ “drinking-the-Kool-Aid” reference.

Yes, it was Flavor-Aid, but Telnaes didn’t label it either way, and she’s right that it was grape. Cartoons can also be fact-checked.

But facts are slippery little devils in the current mix, and a week before the speech, Mike Luckovich pointed out a change since LBJ’s day: Back then, there was no separate news network dedicated to making Democrats look bad.

Which may explain another pre-SOTU cartoon, this one by Matt Davies in which he points out Biden’s sagging ratings.

Nor was he alone. On NBC Nightly News, Kristen Welker’s report on the upcoming speech dwelt on Biden’s low approval ratings, and, again, it’s not so much a case for fact-checkers — the polls say what the polls say — as a call for more nuanced examination of why the polls say that.

According to 538, Biden’s approval ratings are not significantly out of line with the norm, though both Bush presidents had the advantage of a war, which tends to make the public more supportive of the chief executive.

Over at the Bulwark, Jonathan Last puzzled over the apparent gap between the polls and Biden’s record, in a piece headlined “What the fork do you people WANT?”

Perhaps the mainstream’s obsession with horserace coverage, combined with their notion that fairness means playing “on the one hand, but on the other,” has resulted in a constant message, not just from Fox and Newsmax but across the board, that people are unhappy and dissatisfied.

If you build it, they will come, but if you tear it down, they will wander away.

Let’s be clear: It’s not the job of news organizations to be cheerleaders for any political party.

Moreover, while political cartoonists are necessarily either right or left of center, it’s ethically incumbent upon them to criticize both the politicians they oppose and those they support.

Luckovich is justified, in this pre-SOTU cartoon, in addressing the question of whether an 80-year-old man should be seeking a second four-year term.

But how many times can people hear about foggy old Joe before they begin to tell pollsters they’re not sure he’s up to it?

The issue, IMHO, is that, while left-of-center types continue to hold their own politicians’ feet to the fire, there are few right-of-center — among cartoonists or politicians — willing to do the same thing, which results in an imbalance of scorched feet among Democrats.

Last night was a good example of the phenomenon, with Kevin McCarthy — the weakest Speaker of the House in memory — issuing a few totally futile hushes to his claque while the Freedom Caucus jeered, booed and heckled the president.

Bear in mind that, when Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during a Barack Obama speech, he was soundly criticized by his own party leadership and quickly both issued a public apology and personally called the White House to express his regret.

Don’t hold your breath expecting the GOP to scold its ill-mannered extremists and for goodness sake don’t wait for apologies from the hecklers.

On the other hand, it’s not as if they rattled him. I’ve seen seasoned stand-ups facing a roomful of drunks who couldn’t turn the tables half so well.

These three reactions popped up in my Twitter feed in just this order this morning, and so I feel that I’m in some pretty good company.

However, like Nick Anderson, not only do I not expect GOP leadership to discipline their poo-flinging monkeys, but, despite their having been seduced into publicly agreeing to take Social Security and Medicare off the table, I don’t expect them to cooperate with the president when they still have the option of using knee-jerk opposition in the pursuit of power.

I appreciate Jack Ohman echoing the concept of a Confederacy that refuses to secede, an idea I’m finding central to my own thinking.

As with Tribe, McMorrow and Rubin’s take on the speech, I don’t imagine that he’s echoing my thoughts on the topic, but I’m always happy to be in good company, particularly when the question is which comes first, country or party?

The cult that calls itself the Party of Lincoln should recall his warning:

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.

4 thoughts on “CSotD: Land of Confusion

  1. I wish polling would be discontinued. With fewer landlines, more cell phones and fewer people answering them, any results are so skewed as to be useless.

    1. Not to mention that the laziest form of reporting is to hastily construct and conduct a poll and then report its results as if they are newsworthy.

  2. I absolutely LOVED Biden’s political judo of getting Republicans to (unanimously?) agree not to cut Medicare and Social Security, which totally scuttles their entire debt ceiling extortion, although I doubt they realized that in the moment. It was masterful, a real “Perry Mason” moment of maneuvering the criminal to skewer himself on the witness stand. “So, Republicans, what do you want to cut: Medicare, Social Security, the military, infrastructure (no more photo ops on roads and bridges in your district!), or paying back the money we already spent? Because that’s pretty much the federal budget. Pick yer poison!”

    Huckabee-Sanders got the question exactly right: It’s a choice between normal and crazy. I think this morning she’s not getting the answer she expected.

    1. What does it say about a political party that had to be admonished BEFOREHAND by the Speaker to be polite and not shout anything during the President’s address…and they still did anyway?

      And Huckabee’s opposite world screed was performance art for an audience of one to serve as an audition tape for the role as running mate.

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