By Jonathan Alter

‘They Deserve a Vote’ Can Be More Than Rhetoric

February 15, 2013 12:58 pm Category: Bloomberg View, Memo Pad 8 Comments A+ / A-
‘They Deserve a Vote’ Can Be More Than Rhetoric

State of the Union addresses are traditionally laundry lists of policy proposals. President Barack Obama’s this week started that way, but it ended as the most emotional speech before a joint session of Congress in modern memory.

The theatrics of the event also introduced a new approach to framing the public debate that could yield unexpected victories for the president in the next year or two.

Obama made liberal use of what in Washington are sometimes called “Skutniks.”

This is a reference to Lenny Skutnik, a government employee who in 1982 dove into the icy waters to rescue passengers of an Air Florida flight that crashed into the Potomac River shortly after takeoff from Washington’s National Airport.

Two weeks later, President Ronald Reagan invited Skutnik to sit with the First Lady in the gallery of the House during his first State of the Union Address. A tradition was born.

Skutniks are usually sprinkled throughout the State of the Union. This time, Obama kept his in reserve until the end. This made for a powerful coda that mobilized several of the honored guests on behalf of the president’s agenda without seeming too political or sacrificing any of the emotional punch.

“If you want to vote no, that’s your choice,” the president said of his measure to reduce gun violence. “But these proposals deserve a vote, because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”

Obama went on to describe the shooting death, only a mile from his home in Chicago, of Hadiya Pendleton, who just three weeks before performed as a drum majorette in his inaugural parade. The president pointed to Hadiya’s parents in the gallery and said, “They deserve a vote.”

Then, as he acknowledged former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, herself a survivor of a shooting, and the families of other shooting victims, “they deserve a vote” became a powerful refrain, which he recited seven more times to rising applause and tears.

When the president, after saluting a nurse who saved children during Hurricane Sandy, got to a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor, the power of the voting idea came into sharper focus. The president explained how “a throng of people stayed in line” to support the 102-year-old woman as she braved a long wait to vote on Election Day and he described the cheers that erupted when she finally put on a sticker that read: “I voted.”

The grandeur of the democratic franchise — the foundation of our system — could be felt in the congressional chamber.

Some analysts said after the speech that the president lowered the bar on gun-safety legislation by stressing only the need for a vote, not passage of a bill.

That criticism ignores that the traditional way to block legislation in Washington is to prevent it from coming up for a vote. This technique allows opponents the satisfaction of successful obstruction without the accountability that comes from a recorded vote.

No vote means not having to worry about negative television ads in the next election for opposing a proposal popular with the public.

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‘They Deserve a Vote’ Can Be More Than Rhetoric Reviewed by on . State of the Union addresses are traditionally laundry lists of policy proposals. President Barack Obama’s this week started that way, but it ended as the most State of the Union addresses are traditionally laundry lists of policy proposals. President Barack Obama’s this week started that way, but it ended as the most Rating:

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Comments

  • elw

    I believe that the willingness of congressional members to use tricks in order NOT to have to vote is dishonest. It hurts the voter who would like know what the person they are voting for really stands for and the makes a mockery of the Constitution. Stop hiding out behind the filibuster and use your vote, the filibuster will not hide who you are. It will not protect you during elections. Take a lesson from Romney. After to all, isn’t that what Romney did during his campaign, started out claiming to be a strong conservative and switch to being a moderate when he thought it would help him. Now how well did that turn out for him? Your votes speak louder than anything else you can do or say.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/HGC4BGWVYXV76PHZBPSPOOU5GA Independent1

      What’s unfortunate is that the GOP of today only knows one thing – how to be dishonest.

      • lana ward

        EVERYTHING about Otraitor is a lie and you say the GOP is dishonest??. LOL!!

    • sigrid28

      It is quite possible that the American public will be bewildered if nothing happens in Washington after President Obama’s re-election. If they suddenly see changes to social security benefits, stoppage of governmental services, or hear about failure to pay soldiers in Afghanistan, then they may seek answers. The Democratic party will readily supply them, and truthful answers at that:

      These things occurred because the Republican party refused to allow legislation to come up for a vote.

      They went on vacation rather than vote.

      They filibustered to avoid a vote.

      The Speaker of the House, a Republican, refused to bring legislation, which could have prevented this problem, to a vote.

      What person would not ask, why? Democrats can say we wanted a vote, so ask Republican representatives and senators. And when they are asked, what will these disgraced public servants have to say for themselves?

      The sooner the public begins to feel the impact of Republican intransigence and inaction, the sooner the groundwork will be laid for the GOP to lose the House as well as any impact the party might have had in the Senate.

      After the defeat of the party that has decided to self-destruct, Americans will at last feel the effects of Democratic policies that improve their lives and support the continued growth of the economy. By refusing to vote, Republicans also deny themselves the chance to take credit for any improvements that take place.

      • elw

        Yep, the GOP is working very hard at digging its own grave.

  • lana ward

    Otraitor sure has gotten ugly and mean looking. His plastic surgery is changing. He’s looking more like his REAL father , Frank Marshal Davis. ICK!!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1362702462 Madelaine Ayers Henne

      You must be a “plant” on this page to stir things up or you are truly demented!! I go for the latter!!

      • lana ward

        You know nothing so why do you keep chirping

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