Sitting on my couch, my knitting in my lap, the television on, I waited for door of the House of Representatives to open and for the Sargeant of Arms to announce: “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States.”
As President Barack Obama entered, beaming, a bit grayer than last year’s State of the Union address, I absorbed the fanfare and ceremony, watching him shake hands left and right, offer a quick buss on the cheek to select women, hug some, and wave to others.
Congress’ equivalent of Hollywood’s red carpet, the President runs the gauntlet through Republicans and Democrats, senators and representatives, members of his cabinet, the Supreme Court and the heads of military before reaching the podium. The audience- some who according to news reports had staked out their seats at 8 am for a 9 pm (EST) speech – applauds and snaps photographs until he requests they be seated.
I love watching the bi-partisan display of camaraderie and respect for the President, even if it’s only for the hour or so he’s speaking. I love seeing the women dressed in bright colors, designed to attract television cameras, to show their constituents they’re there. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, looked particularly elegant, wearing a shiny royal blue dress almost out of place among the more tailored suits of other women.
I enjoy how these speeches make examples of regular people, who’ve been invited to attend. This year’s speeches included a woman who was laid off from her job as a mechanic and enrolled in a community college that had entered a partnership with a gas turbine company, creating courses, paying this woman’s tuition, and hiring her and a former furniture maker who found work in wind turbine manufacturing.
I share the excitement these ordinary citizens must feel sitting in that chamber, amid all the dignitaries- both elected and appointed.
Listening, I remembered another State of the Union address; the one I attended in 1979. I had a six-month internship with the Hartford (CT) Courant’s Washington, DC bureau, which consisted of one correspondent and a rotation of interns- one at a time. Bob Waters, a seasoned reporter, sent me to the press box, saying, “Go watch some history being made.”
President Jimmy Carter addressed the 96th Congress, offering messages not too unlike President Obama’s. Hitting all the high notes, both speeches included commitments to energy, the economy, education, military reduction, and job creation.
Regardless, I find them inspiring and revel in the patriotism that imbues the hall.
As a new reporter, I felt very important, traipsing around Capitol Hill, covering legislative hearings, then returning to the tiny office in the National Press Building to pound out my story on a manual typewriter that would be sent via teleprinter to the main office in Hartford. It was a great first job.