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January 13, 2011 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Senate leaders are seriously considering modifying the traditional, divided seating arrangements for President Obama's upcoming State of the Union address.

In the wake of the Tuscon shooting (previously 2 3), Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) proposed the change, arguing:
"The choreographed standing and clapping of one side of the room -- while the other side
sits -- is unbecoming of a serious institution. And the message that it sends is that even
on a night when the president is addressing the entire nation, we in Congress cannot sit
as one, but must be divided as two.”
The Democratic leadership appears to be embracing the idea. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has offered that his “members can sit where they are comfortable.”

The State of the Union is notorious for scenes like Udall describes above, and excessive partisanship has been a particular concern in previous Obama speeches before Congress.
posted by saturday_morning (65 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
The choreographed standing and clapping of one side of the room -- while the other side
sits -- is unbecoming of a serious institution.


So it'll be the choreographed standing and clapping of some people while people seated next to them sit? I'm not sure if that's more or less awkward.

Of course, we could always get rid of all of the stupid standing and clapping and just let the president speak uninterrupted. That would be nice. The address would probably be 10% shorter to boot.

Telling that the Republican leadership isn't embracing this very warmly even though it's an utterly symbolic, inconsequential gesture.
posted by jedicus at 4:00 PM on January 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


I like this idea, as long as there are no guns involved (per that previous crazy legislation idea).
posted by theredpen at 4:01 PM on January 13, 2011


It's only symbolic, but I don't see this change as a bad thing. I doubt it will bellwether any real change, but at least we wouldn't have the annoying see-saw effect in the audience of a typical State Of The Union address.

Now, whether any of this will keep members of congress from shouting "you lie" or SCOTUS members from mouthing things to the camera during the address... that remains to be seen.
posted by hippybear at 4:02 PM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Something pointless to argue about.
posted by smackfu at 4:03 PM on January 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


A serious institution? Congress?

...

HAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Ow, my sides hurt.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:05 PM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


You lie!
posted by nostrada at 4:05 PM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


What a nice idea. Seriously. I hope they do it.
posted by bearwife at 4:08 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that the spectacle accurately represents the position of the parties and its members. While this proposal may attempt to change the perception of bipartisanship, it's seems like an attempt to obfuscate the reality of the very partisan nature of congress.

As far as behavior unbecoming a serious institution, I think members on both sides of the isle need to look at their rhetoric and positions and alter those if they want to be considered part of a serious institution.

(personally, I think CSPAN would be a lot more fun if it congress were to have a UK style parliamentary debate).

In summary, these jokers need to work on their substance, not their style.
posted by el io at 4:08 PM on January 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


I really approve of this! I hope it works out! anything to make the nation less divided is great in my book
posted by rebent at 4:08 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seems like there should be a joke about Republicans sitting on the left, probably involving the twit from Alaska, but I'm lacking the wit to come up with one today.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:09 PM on January 13, 2011


When did the whole standing and clapping thing start? Reagan?
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:22 PM on January 13, 2011


I really like this idea, but unless mixed seating is enforced, doubt that much crossover will occur. The net effect, I think, would be to make the President's speech seem better-received than it would otherwise be; the imagery would work to the GOP's disadvantage. That said, props to the Dem leadership for outsmarting the GOP on meaningless imagery for once.
posted by gsteff at 4:24 PM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


It certainly couldn't hurt. Perhaps alphabetical?
posted by bricksNmortar at 4:27 PM on January 13, 2011


I have a better idea. Obama should give every member attending 2 burritos and make them stand the whole time. If the put their burritos down then they have to do a tap dance in red ruby slippers. America needs to remember it's roots.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 4:33 PM on January 13, 2011 [20 favorites]


I hope they do this.
posted by limeonaire at 4:33 PM on January 13, 2011


While this proposal may attempt to change the perception of bipartisanship,

Maybe forcing the opposition to sit next to each other will get them to see each other as regular old people instead of The Enemy. It would be easy to forget if you never ever had to rub elbows.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:36 PM on January 13, 2011


Pope Guilty: "When did the whole standing and clapping thing start? Reagan?"

It dates back to at least Johnson. I remember reading once that Congress remained sitting and silent during most of his State of the Union in '68 at segments of the speech devoted to Civil Rights. The lack of applause was noteworthy at the time, so it must have been commonplace then.
posted by zarq at 4:38 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Analogously, you probably wouldn’t enjoy being the only person standing and clapping alone in the middle of a crowded chamber of seated people.”

How else are you supposed to get a slow clap going?
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:40 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe forcing the opposition to sit next to each other will get them to see each other as regular old people instead of The Enemy.

To be fair, I think a lot of Congresspeople know this about each other already. They belong to the same gym!

I think your idea works better with forced-integration viewing parties across the nation... possibly combined with the drinking game linked above.
posted by saturday_morning at 4:41 PM on January 13, 2011


I bet the Republicans will all get there early and sit on the left side.
posted by bink at 4:42 PM on January 13, 2011


gsteff: "I really like this idea, but unless mixed seating is enforced, doubt that much crossover will occur. "

Yeah, it would be like the nerds and the jocks in the lunchroom. They don't naturally mingle.

Personally, I would be more pleased without the hyperbole of stand clap sit stand clap sitclapstandsitstandclap... It's like noisy Catholic Church. I'm sure occasionally there's the awkward inappropriate standing to clap at the wrong time, like kneeling instead of sitting.
posted by Red Loop at 4:42 PM on January 13, 2011


Maybe forcing the opposition to sit next to each other will get them to see each other as regular old people instead of The Enemy.

They already hobnob together all the time--it might make their constituents think that the other party isn't The Enemy, but don't kid yourself about Reps. vs. Dems as Crips vs. Bloods at DC cocktail parties. Most of the time, they're all too much alike.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:44 PM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Perhaps alphabetical?
Dick: Not alphabetical...
Rob: Nope...
Dick: What?
Rob: Autobiographical.
Dick: No fucking way.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:45 PM on January 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


So it'll be the choreographed standing and clapping of some people while people seated next to them sit? I'm not sure if that's more or less awkward.

I...think that's the point. If it's awkward, then maybe they'll STOP BLOODY DOING it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:46 PM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't see why they shouldn't just hold each others' hands during the entire speech. Builds camaraderie and solves the excessive clapping problem at the same time.
posted by Panjandrum at 4:47 PM on January 13, 2011 [17 favorites]


Maybe forcing the opposition to sit next to each other will get them to see each other as regular old people instead of The Enemy. It would be easy to forget if you never ever had to rub elbows.

These sides are adversarial in exactly the way that a pair of opposing WWE wrestlers are. They do their little histrionic "You!" "No, you!" kabuki, collect their job-preservation fees from their transnational overlords, then share a hearty old laugh over lunch.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:48 PM on January 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Imagine that here there is a parody of the letter at the end of "The Breakfast Club" beginning "Dear Mr. Obama" and ending "Yours truly, The Congress Club," because it's too damn late in the day for me to actually type it up.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:48 PM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


They should sort them by height. Or by descending values of contributions received.
posted by sourwookie at 4:49 PM on January 13, 2011


A serious institution? Congress?

Of course it's an Institution. Everybody in it deserves to be Institutionalized. IYKWIM.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:51 PM on January 13, 2011


The common view is Congress is too divided and not working together so this would be good for both parties. OTOH, another common view is the parties are all the same -- this move could support the emergence of a third party to take on the establishment.
posted by stbalbach at 4:51 PM on January 13, 2011


It is possible that doing this would diminish the chance of heckling, which given that the president can't challenge the hecklers to a duel with broadswords in a pit (a la Lincoln) may be a worthy reason to do so.

I know that at the election debates last year in this area that when crowds where intergrated they where better behaved then when they all sat with their homies.
posted by edgeways at 4:55 PM on January 13, 2011


Obama should give every member attending 2 burritos and make them stand the whole time. If the put their burritos down then they have to do a tap dance in red ruby slippers.

What about the members who do the obvious and eat their burritos? Because, hey, free burritos!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:58 PM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Kinda like Whac-A-Mole.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 5:00 PM on January 13, 2011


Well, the one on the right was on the left
And the one in the middle was on the right
And the one on the left was in the middle
And the guy in the rear was a Methodist

posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:00 PM on January 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


What about the members who do the obvious and eat their burritos? Because, hey, free burritos!
That's my whole point. I think people would be more inclined to watch this if people thought there was a possibility that an esteemed gentleman from Kentucky would say "Jesus, red slippered, burrito gobbling Christ" and then pass out.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 5:09 PM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why don't they just have everyone standing and everyone clapping all the time? They could make it fun. Like, hey, first one to sit gets classified an enemy combatant.
posted by indubitable at 5:13 PM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think there should be half as many chairs as there are senate members, and they should have to fight it out, every day, just to get a seat. Those left standing would have to clap (and stand on one foot) whenever the president says the word "burrito".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:32 PM on January 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


This sort of empty, meaningless gesture is all the asshats of either party can think of to deflect attention from their utter incompetence. Obama should just tape it in his dining room and release it on Facebook - works for @SarahPalinUSA.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 5:35 PM on January 13, 2011


drjimmy11: "Imagine that here there is a parody of the letter at the end of "The Breakfast Club" beginning "Dear Mr. Obama" and ending "Yours truly, The Congress Club," because it's too damn late in the day for me to actually type it up."
Mark Udall: Dear Majority Leader Reid, Speaker Boehner, Minority Leaders McConnell and Pelosi,

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Tuesday evening in the House for whatever it was the President said...but we think you're crazy to make us sit on opposite sides of the aisle. You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain...


Heath Shuler: ...and an athlete...

Michele Bachmann: ...and a basket case...

Joe Lieberman: ...a princess...

Charlie Rangel: ...and a criminal...

Mark Udall: Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

The Congress Club
.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:35 PM on January 13, 2011 [25 favorites]


So it'll be the choreographed standing and clapping of some people while people seated next to them sit? I'm not sure if that's more or less awkward.

I guess it might look like when Elia Kazan was at the Oscars. Yeah, sort of awkward.
posted by bobo123 at 5:37 PM on January 13, 2011


(personally, I think CSPAN would be a lot more fun if it congress were to have a UK style parliamentary debate)

YES! I love watching the House of Commons on C-SPAN! Every time I see that I wonder why our Congress is so wussy.
posted by jeoc at 5:42 PM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I hope they also do boy, girl, boy, girl...
posted by Kloryne at 5:46 PM on January 13, 2011


I hope they also do boy, girl, boy, girl...

You're gonna run out of girls pretty quickly.
posted by saturday_morning at 6:01 PM on January 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


damn- i took 3 full years of college political science and on this post, i cant add anything constructive. just blank!
posted by tustinrick at 6:36 PM on January 13, 2011


Obama should give every member attending 2 burritos

This burrito is wrapped... with the Constitution!
posted by benzenedream at 6:51 PM on January 13, 2011


Calls for bipartisan displays impress me a lot more when they don't translate to "please help my side look good." Seriously. Democrats can suggest this in Republican administrations, or Republicans can suggest it in Democratic ones. Anything else is yet another "I know you are, but what am I" gambit.
posted by SMPA at 7:00 PM on January 13, 2011


I don't see why they shouldn't just hold each others' hands during the entire speech. Builds camaraderie and solves the excessive clapping problem at the same time.

I think we should handcuff them together in Dem/Repub pairs and make them have wacky adventures.
posted by emjaybee at 7:11 PM on January 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


It doesn't surprise me that an institution which prizes Chairmanship would care that much about where people sit. "I am the Chair of the Such-and-Such Committee." Good for you... you're a piece of furniture. Now solve the nation's problems, why don't ya?
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:33 PM on January 13, 2011


Considering some of the childish games that Congress members reportedly play--secret partisan meetings on important legislation, turning the lights off on the other party, calling the police to disperse members making opposing statements, scheduling meetings at inconvenient times (none of this is made up, btw)--this kind of "you've misbehaved so now you need a time out" approach is entirely appropriate.

Incidentally, both sides don't have to play ball for this to happen. If the Democrats just spread themselves out, then commingling will be achieved.
posted by millions at 7:59 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh please. Anyone knows that in a properly administered democracy, the parties are separated by two sword lengths.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:07 PM on January 13, 2011


I don't see why they shouldn't just hold each others' hands during the entire speech. Builds camaraderie and solves the excessive clapping problem at the same time.

Also good for exchanging long protein strands.
posted by pemberkins at 8:24 PM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


A House divided something something.

I'll be watching whatever iTunes has on 99 cent rental. Let me know how it all turns out.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:07 PM on January 13, 2011


Two words, people:

Thriller dance.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:37 PM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


personally, I think CSPAN would be a lot more fun if it congress were to have a UK style parliamentary debate

Actually, it's fascinating to read the rules about how C-SPAN is filmed. For instance, as long as a congressperson is speaking, they are not allowed to show anything but a straight-on camera shot of that person (which, to be honest, is rarely the most flattering view, but I digress..). Because of the rules regarding members of the press in the senate/house chambers, this is the only view that you'll ever see of a speech given in an official capacity by a legislator. Among other things, this prevents the public from seeing that both chambers are virtually always empty. Speeches are most often given to an empty room (and the robo-cameras that you see on C-Span). The guys behind C-SPAN (cable companies mostly) have been arguing for years to allow their own (unrestricted) cameras into both chambers. However, for now, the House and Senate both provide their own feeds to C-SPAN and whomever else want them, and prohibit all other members of the press from filming or photographing in the chambers. This allegedly helps prevent media outlets from putting a partisan spin on their coverage of the official floor proceedings in the chambers.

Disclaimer: I do not hold particularly strong views about any of these rules. The American Legislative chambers were deliberately designed to not share the adversarial layout of the British Parliament. This seems to have been a good decision, and I would hope that we continue the tradition.
posted by schmod at 9:51 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the whole idea of interrupting the speaker — whether with applause or boos or anything else — is more than a little "unbecoming of a serious institution." Sit down, shut up, and when the guy is done talking either clap or get up and leave.

On a more technical note, is the State of the Union given during an actual session of either the Senate or House of Representatives? Specifically, is it necessary for either the House or Senate to have an official quorum for the event to take place? I've never seen them go through the procedure of validating that a quorum exists before a SotU, but maybe it's just not televised. I am curious because I wonder if there would be any significant procedural effect if the minority party decided to simply boycott the whole thing. That's not hard to imagine happening, if the seating arrangement was changed to the point where it was obviously going to be a propaganda rout for the dominant party; it might be advantageous for the other party to just boycott and make the thing go forward with a bunch of empty seats in the audience.

I've never heard of that happening which is a little surprising; for as much as people like to complain about partisanship in Congress now, it's been much worse at times. (Although prior to the 30s I think it was traditional for the President to address Congress in writing rather than in person, and I guess it's possible that this is the ugliest things have been since then, although I'm still skeptical of that.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:09 PM on January 13, 2011


On a more technical note, is the State of the Union given during an actual session of either the Senate or House of Representatives?

The State of the Union address is a joint session of the United States Congress, called by a concurrent resolution passed by both houses.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:16 PM on January 13, 2011


Tucson. It's spelled Tucson.
posted by crawl at 10:24 PM on January 13, 2011


Although prior to the 30s I think it was traditional for the President to address Congress in writing rather than in person

George Washington and John Adams delivered the address in person. Thomas Jefferson thought it was too monarchical and sent a letter (which is all the president is required to do) and subsequent presidents followed his lead. Woodrow Wilson re-established the practice of appearing before Congress in 1913.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:24 PM on January 13, 2011


I think people would be more inclined to watch this if people thought there was a possibility that an esteemed gentleman from Kentucky would say "Jesus, red slippered, burrito gobbling Christ" and then pass out.

If that's what you want, you'll have to make one out of every 10 burritos a special ipecac burrito.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:31 PM on January 13, 2011


I'm still fuzzy on whether the joint session itself requires a quorum; presumably passing the resolutions in the House and Senate that constitute the concurrent resolution that allow the meeting to take place require them (just like any other piece of legislation), but does the joint session itself?

What would, hypothetically, the effect be if a minority party boycotted (the joint session itself, not the sessions called to pass the concurrent resolution)? It seems like it ought not to matter, provided the concurrent resolution has already passed both houses at that point, but it doesn't seem on a quick search like it's ever happened.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:40 PM on January 13, 2011


tustinrick: damn- i took 3 full years of college political science and on this post, i cant add anything constructive. just blank!

You sound like you're ready to run for Congress. Congratulations!
posted by frodisaur at 12:58 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


What would, hypothetically, the effect be if a minority party boycotted

I don't think this would ever happen because it'd mean politicians passing up a chance to be on national television, but if it did, I think the boycotters would look petty.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:57 AM on January 14, 2011


Surely these people have more important things to worry about than a seating chart. The Republicans have had control of the House for two weeks and I still haven't seen a significant rise in employment. Shake a leg!

OR, here's another plan: seat serious, hard-working public servants who are busting their ass to get something done on one side, and seat everyone else on the other side.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:24 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Imagine that here there is a parody of the letter at the end of "The Breakfast Club" beginning "Dear Mr. Obama" and ending "Yours truly, The Congress Club," because it's too damn late in the day for me to actually type it up."

I like this idea too, but I think it should read "Dear America" becuase we're the ones who should be putting them in detention for their behavior.
posted by Big_B at 8:35 AM on January 14, 2011


I'm putting my money on "this doesn't happen."
posted by XhaustedProphet at 1:51 AM on January 15, 2011


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