According to about.com/u_s_government_info: "The (State of the Union) speech was shared with the public only through newspapers until 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge's annual message was broadcast on radio. Franklin D. Roosevelt first used the phrase 'State of the Union' in 1935, and in 1947, Roosevelt's successor Harry S. Truman became the first president to deliver a televised address."
One would have to think the popularity of radio in 1923 gave us the public version of these speeches. It is nowhere stated whether Harry S. fretted over poor ratings.
As required by the Constitution and dictated by the requirements of television, President Obama gave his first "State of the Union" address Jan. 27, at 9 p.m. EST (just in time to catch the California drive-time audience).
As public speakers go, the President is very good. His address to Congress (i.e., the nation) was measured, balanced, and well delivered. This is not to be confused with thinking I either agree with everything he said or in any way believe he can accomplish much in the real world of real politics. I am only saying that it was one of the better such speeches by one of the better speakers in my memory.
To be fair, the Republican Party response by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was one of the best things I've heard come out of the Republicans in quite a while. At no point did he attack the sitting President of the United States, which is all "we" Republicans have been wont to do recently. In an equally measured, balanced, and well delivered message the Governor effectively stated his case.
Then, as a specter rising from the mists, come the enigmatic oracles of "the Polls."
According to TVNEWSER, "Between 9-10:30 p.m., Obama's address drew 30.2 million total viewers across the big four broadcast networks, according to the overnights." That, just incidentally, is out of a nation of 300-million-and seven people in which someone has personally counted more than 300-million-and-eight TVs.
Who counts this stuff?
Apparently of those who watched 83 percent approved of the speech, at least according to the poll released on the CNN website. By extension, this means 25 million people were right -- they agreed with me that it was a good speech.
Who counts this stuff?
Does somebody have a way to check on how many TVs were tuned in to the speeches and how many folks were watching? Did Kay listening in the other room count? Did every phone in the nation ring with someone asking how many in the house were actually watching and whether anyone in the other room liked it?
Did someone with a very fast calculator total up the 25 million-plus people who liked the speech?
Turns out, only 522 folks actually were called and were willing to give the pollster five minutes. This means each person "polled" spoke for about 57,800 people. What if one of them lied and was actually watching a rerun of BONES? And, does this mean there are only 433 people in America who thought it was a good speech?
To me, these polls and their "counts" are like my kindergarten teacher telling us kids that when we sneezed 50 billion germs go into the air. Who counts this stuff?
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.