Tuned In

It Would Have Been Barney, But the Purple Suit Wouldn't Make It Past Security

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Three thoughts on the State of the Union address:

1. As a pure piece of rhetoric, the speech seemed scattershot and lacking a theme. Much of the punditry leading up to the speech had said President Bush would not be delivering a "laundry list" of proposals. It sure sounded like one to me. Ethanol, health care, Social Security, balancing the budget, school choice, energy independence, earmark reform, Hizballah, climate change, the surge. (No mention of "New Orleans" or "Katrina," though. Glad that’s all fixed!) That’s not a laundry list? Maybe I don’t have a big enough wardrobe.

2. The night may have been the President’s, but the camera was much more interested in those politicians who have superseded or seek to replace him. Bush himself called attention to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, graciously congratulating her at the beginning of the speech, but she would have been a focus of attention regardless. And the reaction shots were a buffet of announced or potential presidential contenders: John McCain (on the earmark-reform proposal), Rep. Tom Tancredo (on immigration), Joseph Biden (on Iraq), John Kerry (ditto) and, together in one frame, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, seemingly competing as to who could react most stoically.

3. The ordinary-American-heroes segment has become a standard of the State of the Union since Ronald Reagan pioneered it, but tonight’s seemed tacked on and perfunctory. The choices made sense, though. Mostly. Basketball star / humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo, OK. Wesley Autrey, the New York City subway hero, natch. Tommy Rieman, Iraq war hero, obvs. And then… Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein company?  Huh? Perhaps there’s a connection to the administration I’m unaware of; maybe she worked with Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz on a video with colorful puppets to persuade the President that Saddam Hussein must be deposed.

Seriously, my kids have a few Baby Einstein DVDs in our own collection, and there are far worse media products for kids out there. But founding a children’s video company and selling it to Disney for a bundle is American heroism how? Clearly she’s a canny businesswoman and believes in her product. But what did Baby Einstein do, other than convince nervous yuppie parents that it was educational to buy mesmerizing video-crack-for-babies–replete with product placements–by vaguely linking them to art, literature and questionable research on the brain-building benefits of classical music for infants? At best, Baby Einstein is a harmless, vaguely salutary and stunningly effective electronic babysitter for the exhausted parents of eight-month olds. At worst, it’s evidence that you can never go broke by going to the American people, invoking the welfare of their children, and playing off their anxieties to–

Ah, never mind, I get it. Everything you need to know about politics, you can learn from Baby Einstein.