Danielle Crittenden, to whom David Frum is luckily married, is putting together a new cookbook with Washington Post editorial writer Anne Applebaum of traditional Polish cuisine.
I’m going to get to sample some of the recipes this evening — though David has said he might slip pencil sharpener shavings into my food after organizing an open letter on Israeli settlements that has gotten some attention. He’s joking, I think.
But after running into Obama speechwriter wunderkind Jon Favreau at Starbucks the other day, I got to looking for other commentary on what it takes to put a State of the Union speech together. President Obama will offer his SOTU this next Tuesday evening, January 25th.
And low and behold, David Frum has just written an interesting essay on how to cook up a SOTU.
Here is the long version in Esquire — with many proposals that I strongly support.
I like much of what David puts forward in the mock speech — and his formula rings true on how these things actually come together (though I wish there was less fat in the sausage making process).
Combine one part Speech from the Throne. One part campaign ad. And one part Oscar Night. That’s the formula for a presidential State of the Union address.
And then he offers some suggestions for Obama — and then gets a little punchy:
My main suggestion for Obama in 2011 would be: Don’t forget the importance of delivering positive news. America’s normal ebullient self-confidence has sagged in this recession. Almost half of Americans now (falsely) believe China to be the world’s leading economy. Not even one-third (correctly) credit the United States. (America’s economy is in fact three times larger than China’s, and Americans annually file 20 times as many patents as the Chinese.)
But you know, like the old cart horse when it hears the milk truck roll by, I can’t help but prick up my ears at this season of the year and think in longer form about what the president more specifically ought to say. I wrote those thoughts out in long form in the February issue of Esquire magazine. (For some crazy reason, the editors put a photograph of a nearly naked Brooklyn Decker on the cover instead.) You can read it online, after this opening apologia, on which I will conclude this column:
“It’s a weird feeling of gender bending to imagine writing a major speech for a president of a different party. It’s tempting to treat the whole exercise as a joke: ‘First of all, I’d like to express my apologies to [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu for treating him so rudely.’ Or — worse — you insert into the president’s mouth words that he’d never say, and the whole thing degenerates into political wish fulfillment. Yet there can be a real purpose in the exercise. After the Democratic defeat of November 1994, President Clinton telephoned the neo-conservative Democrat Ben Wattenberg and wondered aloud how he’d ended up the manager of the government, and not the leader of the country. That one question propelled President Clinton’s return to the political center.”
As a joke on former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block and to make a point, I once took a press release he wrote and distributed encouraging President Obama not to further damage US-Israel relations, I flipped all of the references to Obama and Netanyahu around. I published it on TWN noting that mine was a farce — and Josh tolerated my humor and transgression. (Thanks Josh) But flipping things around like Frum did above, or I did on the AIPAC release can sometimes be very useful in trying to understand what someone else is feeling or thinking.
On the Arab front, I was once told by a Saudi prince serving as Ambassador to another country (not the US) that when he was a student at Georgetown he took a course from the very popular University President Father Timothy Healy.
As part of the course, the students had to present arguments on how they viewed Israel and its standoff in the Middle East. The royal prince told me he argued forcefully against Israel’s position and legitimacy as a state. Father Healy then gave the students the task of then writing an essay arguing exactly the opposite of the positions they had taken in class — using as resource material references written by, in this case, Jews who were citizens of or supporters of Israel.
The Ambassador prince did the assignment and told me that it was the most difficult thing he ever had to do. Healy told him he thought he could have done better and gave the prince a “C” for his paper — but in the end, the Ambassador said he learned a great deal from the exercise and it stretched him, preparing him in ways he hadn’t expected to be able to think about the views on the other side of an issue or argument or long-simmering standoff.
So kudos to David Frum for suggesting something similar in his own essay — and hopefully he won’t slip pencil shavings into my food tonight.
— Steve Clemons