As I write this, I have no idea how many members of Congress will scooch over to the opposing side to sit next to their counterparts in six days for the president’s State of the Union address.
I do know that the Republicans agreeing to do it have been played.
I have to hand it to Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado for hatching this scheme. He gets to come across as a civility trailblazer striking just the right tone as the country discusses the tone of our political discourse.
And no one will call him on it — at least not anyone elected. Would you want to be the Republican who steps forward to deliver what I’m about to deliver?
First, let’s stipulate that there may well be members of Congress who sincerely believe this is a lovely idea, embracing it with no hidden motive. Udall may be one of them. But this contrived occasion of forced conviviality plays directly into the strategies of a wounded Democratic Party.
Let us examine what we would see at a 2011 State of the Union with everyone sitting where they should.
President Barack Obama will say things. Some of them will be glowing reviews of his ideas. At those moments, members of his party will spring to their feet for the now-famous one-sided standing ovation that has become the norm for every such address by every president of either party.
So there they would be, 193 Democrats rising as one to shout their approval of the expansionist, collectivist policies of the president who leads their party, while the Republicans stay seated.
Quite the visual image. The first thing that would strike the viewers is that those holding their seats would outnumber those rising to applaud by about 50.
Much is said about matters “across the aisle,” but that’s how many Republicans are actually seated on the other side, as a result of the electoral walloping their party delivered to Democrats in November. How convenient for this stunt to obscure that by sprinkling the parties together.
This happy bit of manipulative theater also achieves something even more important to a party looking to obscure the waning popularity of its agenda. By obliterating the familiar imagery of one side up, the other side down, the very differences that will define the coming debates on key issues are blurred.
The best observation about that comes from Dr. Merrill Matthews at the North Texas-based Institute for Policy Innovation. “Members of Congress stand and applaud, or don’t, for policy reasons,” he wrote this week. “They’re expressing approval or disapproval of what the president is doing. That practice sends the president and the country an important message.”
During Tuesday night’s speech, Democrats should be judged by their applause for the Obama agenda. Republicans should be judged by their display of indifference. Let America figure out which side best reflects their views.
Those views terrify the Democrats of 2011. Fresh from one beating, they are trying to avoid another next year. Part of that effort involved the disgusting attempt to characterize their opponents as accessories to the Tucson shootings. With that strategy dashed against the rocks of failure, they now seek to use the trumped-up “civility” issue to mask the sides that will be taken when Congress finally gets back to work.
When it does, look for many on the left to characterize opposition to its agenda as the kind of incendiary rhetoric that could well inflame the next Jared Loughner.
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