The Real State of the Union
by Newt Gingrich
As a member of Congress I sat through 20 State of the Union addresses. I listened to Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Four of those I spent sitting behind the president as Speaker of the House.
During each of the four years I was speaker, it was President Clinton who delivered the State of the Union address.
I can tell you firsthand that it is very challenging to be the Republican Speaker of the House sitting directly behind a Democratic president as he delivers his biggest speech of the year. There are more pitfalls than you might imagine.
On the one hand, the speaker sitting behind the president has to be positive and polite because he (or she) is technically the host and represents the entire House. That is a nonpartisan responsibility.
On the other hand, I was, like Speaker Boehner last night, a Republican and a conservative who found a lot of what a liberal president said the opposite of what I believed. I couldn’t be seen applauding or smiling while the president said things I opposed.
All this is made more complicated by two facts about State of the Union addresses.
First, presidents try to find popular unifying statements which will bring the entire Congress to its feet on both sides of the aisle, and the speakers behind the president often find themselves standing and applauding him on national television simply because it wouldn’t make sense to ignore these statements.
Yet second, the liberal president will almost certainly attack the Republican speaker’s party, and will do so to the great excitement and enthusiasm of his fellow Democrats. If your face suggests that you’re bothered by the president’s attacks on your party, everyone will see your reaction on television. Few other people in the chamber have to think so much about what their faces are doing.
I know the State of the Union was always one of the hardest things I did. I suspect President Obama’s ideological extremism makes it even harder for Speaker Boehner.
President Obama’s class warfare, his commitment to raising taxes, increasing regulation and his failed ideology make his vision for America one of the most radical in our history. The vision he describes is for fundamentally changing our country.
I sure wouldn’t want to sit behind him as he described that.