Every year at State of the Union time, I look for one key sign that all is as it should be in the House chamber: Eliot Engel's giant head. My large-noggined Representative plants himself on the aisle, down front, well ahead of the President's arrival each and every year - more the better for getting that TV time that Congressmen crave.
And, yes, there it is! The MSNBC cameras picked it up. The Congressional Cranium has been spotted, nodding furiously at Hillary Clinton. Okay, the Republic still stands. The House and Senate are gathered. Engel gets his spotlight and the sergeant at arms can do his duty.
9:05 - The pre-game question seems to be centered on whether Bush can change the story away from the national disaster that is Iraq to issues like the environment, immigration and health care. The answer is no, short of a massive bombshell.
9:09 - Here's Bush, skipping many Democrats I notice, including poor Eliot Engel. He did kiss Jean Schmidt, the hateful warmonger from Ohio, however.
9:11 - Nancy Pelosi's career moment, shaking the President's hand in a spot occupied heretofore only by politicians of my particular gender. "You ready to go?" Bush asks Pelosi. "Welcome, Mr. President," she answers, and she introduces him. The President's gracenote in congratulating Pelosi has the chamber echoing.
9:17 - More enterprise. Uh-huh. "The country is on the move." So is Barbara O'Brien, who's live-blogging and get details I'd miss. This is annoying, says my daughter, they stand for everything. This is the easy stuff, I say. Wait a while.
9:22 - Still mom and apple pie. Math and science skills. Dems sitting on hands for no child left behind. Cheney adjusting underwear, apparently. Pelosi looks composed.
9:25 - Affordable health care. Savings accounts. Small business. Helping the states. Nothing national. "Junk lawsuits." Did Pfizer write this speech?
9:27 - Immigration. Ooooh. This could be good. Will the Republicans applaud? "The great tradition of the melting pot." Lots of applause for "comprehensive immigration reform," but of course, that means different things to different pols - especially those who support vigilante groups and oppose any expanded guest worker programs or amnesty.
9:31 - His big proposal - cutting gas usage by 20% in ten years.
9:33 - Heh-heh, heh-heh. He said "global climate change." Heh-heh, heh-heh. I thought Cheney was gonna plotz. Accident Pelosi's wearing green?
9:36 - Macao again. Ed Asner saying Macao is a sound that's going to haunt me to my grave.
9:37 - We all love the troops. Cut to generals. The full standing O.
9:38 - It is me, or is his constant use of "the terrorists" - as if they were a unified, monolithic Reich on the march - just this side of insanity? Does he believe this? Did he really just say Shia and Sunni "have the same wicked purposes?" A decisive ideological struggle - I dunno. The artist asks: "why is he going on and on with this, just to justify himself?" I think she's got it.
9:42 - McCain is asleep.
9:43 - Writes Barbara: "Must … not … throw … lamp … at… television." Easy there, blogger.
9:44 - "Victory" is such an empty word when perched upon those pursed presidential lips.
9:47 - There's nothing new here. The same tired words with a higher death count. "We can expect an epic battle..." Cut to Lieberman. And they do.
9:49 - Dramatic shot of Pelosi sitting quietly with her hands folded, as Cheney and the Republicans stand and applaud.
9:52 - Sendin' civilians abroad to where we need 'em. I thought we called that "Halliburton."
9:54 - We're in laundry list land. There's Teddy Kennedy next to Barak Obama. There's Homer Simpson on my picture in picture.
9:56 - Gallery time. In the paint, there's Dikembe Mut-ummmmmmbbbbboooo. And the foul. And Laura.
9:58 - My cable TV listing has this down as the Jim Webb Pre-Game Show.
10:00 - Hey a New Yorker! Wes Autrey, subway hero, takes a bow.
10:01 - Here's a preview from Webb's speech, as he continues to gain with his populism:
In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy - that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.
10:02 - "God bless"?!? From a deli man, that's a rave.
10:08 - The postgame. Brokaw really hammers Bush is a quiet way: "It was interesting watch him try to glide over Iraq with a list of things we've all heard before and how quiet it was on both sides of the House." Good summation.
10:16 - Senator Webb is on, from his office. Not a great teleprompter man yet, but who cares. He's got two messages. One - most of the middle class is being left behind in this narrow, upscale boom. Two - the war is a disaster. Here's the key passage:
The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed.
The war's costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world. The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.
The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.
I think I'll leave it there. The team over at DMI will have instant research up very shortly, to check in over there.