SOTU 2011

By Mike Dorf

Here is a brief stream-of-consciousness reaction to the State of the Union.

1) Justice Scalia should send chocolates and flowers to CJ Roberts and Justice Kennedy.  By joining the Court's four Democratic appointees in showing up at the SOTU, they prevented an extremely awkward scene of seeming partisanship on the Court.  That story would have resonated strongly with the criticisms that some have leveled at Justice Scalia for his appearance at Michele Bachmann's Constitutionathon, giving the latter story a longer shelf-life.

2) The pre-speech analysis I heard (on NPR) foretold of President Obama's metaphor of a plane and its engine. I thought it was a pretty clunky metaphor but figured it would be better when the President presented it.  It wasn't, as the chamber's non-reaction confirmed.  The core problem was that the metaphor made a muddle of the central message of the speech, which is that the economy has averted disaster and now we need to turn to addressing long-term issues with the can-do American spirit.  The idea that the American economy is a plane that's about to crash unless the engine is fixed doesn't fit that message.  The "Sputnik moment" line worked better.

3) The most daring--one might say reckless--part of the speech was the President's claim that the U.S. stands with the people of Tunisia.  If Tunisia were unique, this would have been sensible.  They've already ousted their strongman, so U.S. diplomacy ought to position us to have a chance at friendly relations with whatever new regime emerges.  But Tunisia doesn't stand alone.  Was no one in the White House watching the news from Egypt, where people are drawing inspiration from Tunisians to take to the streets to demand that Mubarak go the way of Ben Ali?  It is undoubtedly in the long-term interests of the U.S. for a stable pro-Western democracy to emerge in Egypt.  But that does not seem like the most likely outcome of Mubarak's departure.  I suppose the best that can be said for including the line about Tunisia is that nothing the President said would have had much of an impact on events on the streets of Cairo.  Still, I thought the President was playing with fire here in much the same way as his immediate predecessor did in casting democracy as a cure-all for the Middle East.