Monday, January 17, 2011

Today's State of the SOTU

Over the next few days we will surely be spending a lot of time discussing the impact of the Tuscon shootings, which continues to dominate the national political conversation, on this year's State of the Union Address.  Will President Obama build on his widely-applauded address at last week's memorial service and make civility and cooperation the centerpiece themes of his speech to Congress?  What symbolic and tangible olive branches will he offer to the Republicans that now control the House?  Who from Arizona may join the First Lady as the signature First Guest in the president's box?

But we don't have to wait for the speech to be delivered see how profoundly the tragic events in Tuscon have already changed the trajectory of THE political event of the year in Washington.  Usually by this time in January, there have already been a couple weeks of escalating speculating around likely focal points and new nuggets and at least a few selective leaks and/or trial balloons around new policies and/or programs.  Yet so far there has been almost no noticeable pre-speech build-up this month.  And what little buzz there is not about what the president will announce or denounce, but where his friends and foes will be sitting.

That's right: in case you missed it, the hot SOTU story of the moment is the growing interest in a proposal being championed by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) to suspend the normal practice of partisan seating and standing.  This idea picked up a fair amount of momentum over the weekend after it was jointly endorsed on Meet the Press by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), who promised to listen next to each other even if Udall's desegregation proposal wasn't formally adopted.

We're curious to hear your thoughts on this notion -- in particular, the practical import for the speech itself.  Will it substantially change the atmospherics in the room — and how the speech is received at home —if Congress stands and claps as one for once?

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