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The Sophomoric Side of the State of the Union

Whether given by a Republican or a Democrat, the State of the Union has a major flaw: the constant interruptions with applause. During last year’s speech, 82 applause breaks occurred, two above the average of 80 in State of Unions since 1991.[1] Assuming that each applause break lasts 20 seconds, the speech averages almost 27 minutes of applause. Most of these interruptions are one-sided with representatives from one party standing and cheering while those from the other party are sitting and stewing. This cacophony is more than merely annoying. It harms the country in three important respects.

First, the partisan applause and cheering diminishes the importance of the issues and topics discussed. In some ways, the State of the Union, which starts out as a regal and dignified event, descends into what appears to be a high school student council meeting. In contrast to the student council meeting which focuses on issues that do not have real-world impact (such as the theme for prom), the State of the Union focuses on critically important topics (such as U.S. economic and foreign policy) which affect the nation and the world. These issues deserve more respect.

Second, the often one-sided applause is a symbol of the country’s division and serves to further divide us. Representatives appear to be more focused on cheering for their party rather than analyzing the issues and supporting the policy which is best for the nation. To many Americans, Washington and the country as a whole is more partisan than ever. The Congressional reaction to the State of the Union merely perpetuates this belief, and it may even encourage more division. The goal of the State of the Union should be to understand the issues facing the country and introduce ways to address them. Whether Republican or Democrat, everyone is on the same team, and we all want what is best for the nation. Congresspersons and Senators should demonstrate unity and set the example for the nation by showing decorum during the State of the Union.[2]

Third, the loud interruptions discourage individuals from watching the State of the Union. Americans are busy, and it is difficult to sit through nearly 30 minutes of useless applause when one can be doing something else. Additionally, many people will not watch the speech because of its partisan nature. The country needs as many people as possible involved in current events and knowledgeable about the issues. The State of the Union is a great vehicle to accomplish these goals. Congresspersons and Senators should withhold their applause so that they remove a major hurdle to those watching the speech, the seemingly infinite breaks for cheering.

The State of the Union is a key speech for the nation. It is important to hear both the President’s assessment of the nation and the agenda for the upcoming year. Hopefully, in the near future, Congresspersons and Senators will realize the impact of their endless applause and stop this sophomoric and harmful practice.

[1] Politico, (last visited January 18, 2014) and New York Magazine, (last visited January 18, 2014)

[2] Incidentally, those watching the speech will still know which side supports which policy. For instance, Americans likely know that Democrats will support increasing taxes on the wealthy while Republicans do not. Americans do not need a cheering section to convey this obvious fact.

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