The State Of The Union: Who Should Sit Together?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's a Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Dana Milbank, political columnist for The Washington Post, talks about Senator Mark Udall's proposal for Democrats and Republicans to sit together at the State of the Union speech.

President Obama will give his third State of the Union address on January 25th. This year, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) has proposed that Congressional members break the divided seating tradition of GOP on one side of the aisle and Dems on the other. He'll be crossing the aisle and some of his colleagues say, they'll join him, including New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn.

Dana Milbank calls this "miraculous," and said he's heard all kinds of suggestions for who should sit with whom. "The permutations are endless," Milbank said. Callers had some fun with it, too. Mike from New York said Michele Bachmann and Nancy Pelosi should pair up, but he had another more serious suggestion for Congressional delegates.

I do think that if they did keep their blackberries down and their ears trained on what the President had to say on what the State of the Union actually is, they would look at each other as human beings and not as these talking heads that they probably only see each other on television talking about each other.

Many other callers agreed. Congressmen and women should put their mobile devices away. Milbank says, at least the tweeting and texting is more discrete than shouting and heckling (which happened at last year's address). Congressional delegates certainly don't spend enough time seeing each other's human side, says Milbank, so this movement to mingle is a big step.

People may say it's symbolic but you know what, some good symbolism is what we need here. And the problem here in Washington is that people have come to the point where they don't regard the opposition as human and that's because they don't actually have any interaction with them. They zip in here Tuesday morning and leave Thursday evening to get back to their districts.

Callers were skeptical, including one who called it "staged unity." Milbank said it is a step toward a culture shift in Washington, but it certainly doesn't begin and end with one night of mingling.

They need to have these sort of mixers, obviously more than one night's worth.


Who should sit with each other at the State of the Union? Who should never sit with each other? And, what's next to continue the bipartisan spirit?


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Comments [22]

Carl Peter Klapper from Berkeley Heights, NJ

Why am I hearing this: ?

Jan. 20 2011 04:07 PM
Jack from Astoria, N.Y.

I'm with Amy from Manhattan. Have these Reps. sit in these seats for the whole session. There is a Mob mentality in the govt. now. There wouldn't be shouting at the Pres. if you sat alone without your buddies sitting on either side of you.
When I think about it though, it reminds me of grammer school. If you sat around too many of your friends, you were bound to start cutting up. That's when your seat got changed. They are a cut ups, ALL OF THEM !

Jan. 17 2011 10:01 PM
Joe from Brooklyn

To the mental midget who said Joe Wilson was correct and that Obama really was lying. You are lying.

To suggest that by not accounting for some weak area in a piece of legislation representing a theoretical loophole, Obama was lying, is really pathetic.

As they say, all presidents lie. But after eight years of the Cheney administration, I'd expect even a milksop like you would hold accusations of lying to a higher standard.

Jan. 17 2011 06:07 PM
Joe from Brooklyn

Terrible idea. Just sets up the Dems to get more weak-kneed than they already are. The last thing we need is to cooperate with the modern Republican. They should be ostracized instead.

Jan. 17 2011 05:55 PM

Hey! Wait a minute! So many wives I know are Democrats while their husbands are Republicans - it can be done!

Jan. 17 2011 02:15 PM
Sue from Manhattan

While rhetorical demonizing may not have been higher in the recent past and gestures of comity are always welcome, lets recall the lyrics of Tom Lehrer's National Brotherhood Week, found at .

Jan. 17 2011 11:23 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Why just for the State of the Union address? Why not sit together for the whole legislative session?

Jan. 17 2011 10:38 AM
Arthur from Mendham, NJ

We need to restore respect for our leaders to set an appropriate tone. We can disagree and constructively criticize, but the tone of the nation has become gutter level discussion. Talk radio hosts that create a very negative tone about our leaders do nothing more than incite the potential for the disrespect that allows fringe factions to mobilize to the detriment of all.

Jan. 17 2011 10:30 AM

It's about 'civilility' & listening to the other side's point of view - not unity, at least not yet, if ever -

Jan. 17 2011 10:29 AM
Ruth Kreinik from New York City

Re: The State of the Union,
I'd like the guests to leave their electronic communications devices OFF. I'd like them NOT to applaud during the speech. I'd like them to show great respect for the president by listening to him. The applause should be ONLY at the end.

Jan. 17 2011 10:28 AM
Josh Levine

Not sure what the knee jerk reaction against posturing in Washington is.

In public Communist country meetings there is NO public disagreement.

Is that somehow good?

Jan. 17 2011 10:27 AM

Fundamentally, there are ideological divides; if this "visual" is an opening, followed by one-on-ones where they can actually discuss the ideologies that underlie their politics.

Jan. 17 2011 10:26 AM
Joe Denaro from Manhattan

THE PRESIDENT should ask that the whole Chamber, no matter the seating arrangment, to SUSPEND THE APPLAUSE/ HALF THE HOUSE STANDING, AS THE OTHER REMAINS SEATED interupting his address. This partisen ritual, more than anything, contributes most to the "Pep Rally" atmosphere that emboldens a rogue Congressman to yell "Liar" during the address.

Jan. 17 2011 10:21 AM

3 things:
* Each Congressmember has to have *2* people on each side (except the end of the row)--so what about 3somes?

* They should not tweet etc. *during* the speech, but have WNYC-like chat rooms do *afterward*--and avoid the spin room.

* The same pairings should go out for private dinner afterward and make some reasonable attempt to discuss issues--completely off-the-record, with the only ground rule being that "talking points" be banned.

Jan. 17 2011 10:21 AM
JohnnJersey from Nj

Nevermind sitting together. It would be good if no member of the Republican party shouts out, "you liar" as the president speaks.

Jan. 17 2011 10:20 AM
Brian from Brooklyn

Why is an "Instant reaction" to the SOTU so valuable? Is listening and "sleeping on it" THEN contacting their constituants the next day so bad?
I'd like a little more thoughtfulness. That takes time. We need to slow the cycle of rhetoric.

Jan. 17 2011 10:18 AM
sally tannen from brooklyn

I think it's a great idea to ban blackberries,etc from the House floor.

Jan. 17 2011 10:17 AM
Dave from Whippany, NJ

Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and David Vitter :-). $5 says Vitter tries to buy her for a night.

Jan. 17 2011 10:17 AM
Tim Schreier from NYC

Rep Joe Wilson S.C. should sit alone.

Jan. 17 2011 10:16 AM
Ishmael from NYC

So... we ask students not to text and tweet in class, but, it's OK for senators and reps. to play with their Blackberries?

Hmmm, that says something about our expectations of Congress.

Jan. 17 2011 10:15 AM

I thought GOP anger about everything was the melodramatic solution to the problem of having been accused of morphing into Democrats?

Isn't ANYTHING better than being called a Republicrat? Isn't that the problem that arguably ridiculous posturing solves?

Jan. 17 2011 10:15 AM

Isn't there already enough hypocrisy and posturing in Washington? Believing that this could actually change things is more like whistling in the dark. I too wish things were different, but if we truly want change to take place, recognizing the harsh reality might be a better start.

Jan. 17 2011 10:00 AM

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