President Obama gave his State of the Union address last week — a speech that has been called both inspiring and tough, as well as rhetorical and lacking content. I thought the speech was good and I heard a lot of what I wanted to hear. What I thought was more impressive, however, was when the President took questions from House Republicans at a retreat in Baltimore two days later.
The State of the Union has received and continues to receive a lot of analysis and criticism. The question and answer session deserves a lot more attention than it is getting. Watching the retreat was an educational experience. It was much more candid and stimulating than the State of the Union. Both Republican representatives and the president were addressing concerns they had with each other and talking about them.
You could sense the tension discussing certain issues, but they were addressed respectfully and forcefully. Not only that, but the whole thing was transparent since it was broadcast live on C-SPAN. That is how politics should be, rather than the over-the-top accusations and boxing each other in we are used to hearing from talking heads like Beck and Olbermann.
Understandably, we like to listen to those that we agree with politically. People are not going to stop watching and listening to their side’s political talk shows and that’s just the way it is. But you cannot tell me Fox News is the only station that “tells you how it really is” any more than I can tell you MSNBC is purely objective and unbiased.
We tend to get so obsessed with ideology that we let it turn into demagoguery. In other words, we end up making arguments that are completely unsubstantiated or backed up by any facts just because that is what is being ingrained in us every day. If we insist on watching these people, we need to acknowledge that some of what we are watching and listening to only serves to make us into unblinking ideologues.
I do not mean to undermine the importance of the president’s State of the Union address. It is an important event that Americans should be more concerned about than the season premiere of Lost. At the same time, the session most people missed or do not even know about was both intellectually challenging and healthy. What I am saying is these sort of meetings need to happen more frequently, because they open the door for honest discussion and debate.
Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus.
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