How to Improve the SOTU Response. Seriously.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Over at the Monkey Cage, Arthur Lupia has a post titled “Three ways to improve the response to the State of the Union address.” My first response was, “Please continue. I promise not to laugh.” But it turns out he really does have some good advice:

Today’s SOTU responses have the production qualities of a 1980s cable-access program….Contrast this with the crowds that greet the president when he enters and the frequent applause he receives (even if offered by only half of the attendees). Viewers notice these differences, which can provide visual and aural reinforcement to the notion that the responding party is second-best.

…..Add an audience. Ample research shows that people’s acceptance of new information often depends on how they see others responding to it. If the response can be delivered in front of citizens whose enthusiasm for the message is energetic and genuine, viewers will sense that.

….Include lots of energetic young adults….Because there will always be plenty of young voters who want to play a bigger role in the responding party’s future, why not invite them to be part of the audience? Viewers would see, hear and feel the energy that such can audience can create.

There has to be some reason that opposing parties don’t do this already. It’s all pretty obvious advice, especially the second point about doing the speech in front of an audience. But what’s the reason? Do the old fogies think the SOTU is a sacred event that shouldn’t be diminished by stagecraft and a cheering audience? That seems unlikely. Are the cable nets unwilling to broadcast an obvious campaign speech? Give me a break. Everyone knows what these things are. Do the party wheelhorses not care because they figure no one watches it anyway? That’s possible—just barely—but it’s hard to believe that no one sees the possibilities. And it’s not like a more vibrant response would cost a ton of money to put on. A few hundred cheering kids would be plenty. You don’t need to do it in the Astrodome.

Anyway, weird stuff. It seems like such an obvious missed opportunity. What explains it?


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend