Monday, February 1, 2010

Seeing race everywhere

Paul Passavant noticed that the Republican response to Obama's State of the Union address looked weirdly like an alternate universe in which the president was a white guy.  He suggests that this is by design:
Finally, and most disturbingly, is the significance of the venue for the Republican response to the SOTU—the legislature in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond, of course, was the capitol of the confederacy. Although the significance of the locale was apparently missed by the networks and the Democrats, it likely would not be missed by the core Republican constituency—southern whites.
I don't know.  For some reason, everyone's making a big deal about the fact that Gov. McDonnell's speech was delivered in the well of a state legislature.  No one seems to remember Gov. Christie Todd Whitman's response to President Clinton's 1995 State of the Union address.  Like McDonnell, she spoke in front of her state legislative chamber.  Surely there was no racial component there.  And I'm guessing it wasn't the GOP's intention to conjure an alternative universe in which women ran the nation.

I think the visual was actually the key here.  The president has an enormous advantage when delivering a SOTU, including a built in audience, roughly half of which is likely to cheer wildly for him at the drop of a hat.  A governor speaking in front of a legislature has at least a fighting chance of looking good by comparison.


Robert said...

The link that Passavant tries to draw reminds me of nothing so much as Fox News' portrayal of Obama's speech in Berlin during the campaign: "He spoke at the Victory Column, site of numerous Nazi rallies leading up to the Second World War." Come on.

Jonathan Bernstein said...

Good job noting the Christie Todd Whitman response -- I was shocked how many people treated this as a brand new device. OTOH, all it does is to show again how useless the SOTU response is. The opposition puts lots of thought into how to do it -- remember the Dems "Members of Congress back home" response? -- and at best it's a totally forgettable fifteen minutes.

I agree with the larger point, too, but mainly anyone really trying to figure out the symbolism and meaning of the SOTU response has way too much time on their hands.

Jarv said...

The meaning and the symbolism of the SOTU response is clear: let's see if this person is someone we should think about for a VP or possibly even Prez nomination in a few years.