By Jay Jamison
My column was written. I’d given my most recent creation a few read-throughs and some edits, and I was just about to submit it to The Source for publication, when the newly elected Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi of California, ruined everything. Frozen in knee-deep snow for several days, I’d had time to write my lead-up to what amounts to America’s only annual attempt at high political theater, the President’s State of the Union Address before Congress. On January 16, Speaker Pelosi sent a letter to the White House suggesting that the President delay his annual address before Congress, scheduled for January 29, until the partial government shutdown was over. Maybe they’ll settle their differences before then, but I have a deadline. Who would have thought that the influence of the partial government shutdown would have such a long reach, affecting a snowbound freelance writer in West Central Illinois?
Following Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s well-known injunction not to let a crisis go to waste, I thought a semi-humorous speculation on the speech during a government shutdown would fit the bill. Add to the shutdown impasse the fact that the Democrats had taken control of the House and that a majority in the chamber would be openly hostile to the President, with some even threatening impeachment—that would make for amusing speculation. After the familiar announcement of the House Door Keeper, and the President’s entry into the House chamber, I was anticipating the scene when the House Speaker reads aloud the traditional introduction of Presidents, “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and the distinct honor and to present to you the President of the United States.” In my original copy, I mentioned something about the possibility of Speaker Pelosi’s gag reflex, or maybe even a coughing fit, overcoming her as she stumbled through the President’s introduction. A team of comedy writers couldn’t have come up with a situation more brimming with potential for non-stop laughs. In past speeches, I’d watched the Vice President and the House Speaker behind the President as he gave his speech. All they can see is the back of the President’s head, and they must be mindful that millions of eyes, including mine, are watching their every expression, their every move. If my memory serves, there was a Saturday Night Live sketch years ago with cast members playing the Vice President and the Speaker, making faces and funny gestures behind the President as he droned through his speech. The annual event sometimes includes unexpected vignettes, like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg nodding off during one of President Obama’s never-ending speeches. I have often wondered what went through President Obama’s mind as he gave his speech while observing that one of his favorite jurists was sawing logs in the front row. Her catnap inspired me to write five hundred words (a complete column) before Obama’s speech was over. So, having the State of the Union speech postponed or maybe even canceled comes as a serious blow—especially since my State of the Union prequel was already written and ready for publication. Just think of me as another innocent victim caught up in the widening crisis of the partial government shutdown. Then again, I did manage to get these 550 words together in time.