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Musical Chairs and the State of Our Union

January 26, 2011

(from AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

During the state of the union, party divides are often made obvious by seating arrangements. One half of the room stands in applause while the other half sits, perhaps with crossed arms or sour faces.  Yesterday’s state of the union, in response to the increased calls for civility and bipartisanship, was a little different.


Members of congress sat next to opposing party members in a symbolic act of civility. Nearly 60 lawmakers made the pledge in advance of the speech and as the cameras panned the crowd you could see pairs like John Kerry and John McCain prominently seated next to each other.  Members of Congress also showed solidarity by sporting the black and white lapel ribbons in honor of the victims of the Tucson shooting. An empty seat was left open by the Arizona delegation in honor of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who is still hospitalized.


Obama’s opening remarks addressed the tragedy that sparked debate about the virulence of public debate saying:

“There’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater—something more consequential than party or political preference.”


While it’s important not to overstate the degree to which creative seating or change in tone can go toward bipartisan action, it show a step in the right direction and hopefully a willingness to try.


Missed it? Wanna relive it? You can find the full video and transcript of the speech here.


What did you think of the State of the Union address?  Did the changed seating make it seem less partisan?

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