February 12, 2013

State of the Union '13 in Screen Shots: Emotion (and Mastery) of "They Deserve a Vote"

In an effort organized by five Democrats from New York and New England — the region of Newtown — more than 30 members brought to the Capitol families that had experienced gun-related tragedies. It was powerful theater, especially when Obama himself paid homage to the parents of a victim from Chicago.

Using the call-and-response cadence of a church service, the president demanded that the Congress allow up-or-down votes on several gun measures. The idea was to put Republicans and wavering Democrats from Red States on the spot.

And it felt in the House Chamber Tuesday night that he had done so.

— Howard Fineman: The Emotion Of The Night (HuffPo)

How we got from the moral majority and the sanctimony of the GOP during the Terri Schiavo drama to last night is a powerful evolution. What was masterful last night was the way the President was operating on two tracks, delivering an appeal to conscience (and Congressional action) supported by the presence of violence victims and their families while, at the same time, politically shaming the Republicans. The performance was so accomplished and moving, it’s worth slowing it down and watching the behavior in pieces. (Here’s the full video, by the way. Obama excerpts in italics.)

In the screen shot above, we can see Boehner’s countenance as Obama starts out raising the subject of guns. The smirk doesn’t last long.

“It’s been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time it’s different.”

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Biden on his feet. Boehner now stoic.

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“Each of these proposals deserve a vote in Congress.” (As Biden rises, Wasserman Schultz and colleagues, sitting with victim’s families, literally glare at the GOP section.)

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Apparently, only a single member standing in the GOP section.

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Cut-away to Giffords.

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“If you want to vote “no,” that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote.”

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“Since New Town, more than a 1000 birthdays and anniversaries have been stolen by a bullet from a gun.” Boehner steals a very uncharacteristic glance upward. Conscience?

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One of those people we lost was Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old and she loved Fig Newtons.” (Goes on to explain how she was killed shortly after participating in inauguration festivities in a park a block from Obama’s home.) Parents are off to the left, so Boehner generally looking into upper gallery. The stoicism broken, however, he’s emotionally come into sync with Biden.

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Obama introduces the Pendletons. Well into emotional call.

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“They deserve a vote.”

Here are the Pendletons receiving recognition. By the way, I have no idea know I would have dealt with such a moment just days after my daughter’s funeral. The look from the Marine is also touching.

It’s hard to see clearly here but more members are standing now on the far side.

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Chris Matthews said Boehner never stood and applauded during the speech but he did for the Pendletons, now looking quite unguarded.

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Ovation from full chamber. Loud chorus of approval.

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“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.”

The way her right hand, which she has to control with her left, moved up and down as a substitute for clapping — and how it seemed perfectly natural and appropriate — was as powerful as her look of reflection.

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Same for the paternal glance from Mark Kelly.

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“The families of New Town deserve a vote.”

Powerful, too, was the face of the 1st grade teacher from Sandy Hook who seemed too transfixed to return the sentiment as Jill Biden moved toward her. It’s the same heaviness/look of trauma we sense on the faces of the Pendletons.

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“The families of Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Tucson…”

Everyone standing now. Not just applauding but calling out.

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“and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities…”

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Here mix of members on the floor (see Pelosi and member bottom middle-left) still glaring the Republican’s way.

“effected by gun violence …… they deserve a vote.”

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Still another grieving couple.

(Cheering) “They deserve a simple vote!”

What’s so complex about Obama, and what makes him so accomplished in situations like this, is how he can be so so genuine and earnest on the one hand and so political on the other, both qualities retaining their own integrity yet being impossible to pull apart.

(screenshots: Wall Street Journal)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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