You can't blame people for forgoing substance in favor of salmon and Bachmann's crazy-eye, given how canned and theatrical the State of the Union is and was (unless you consider Tom Friedman-esque rhetoric a policy direction). Let's take stock.
You can watch the whole speech, with transcript and factchecking, here. There was an extended prelude where Obama talked about how it is that India and China are kicking our asses. There was centrist talk about a five-year domestic spending freeze. There was an unfortunate repetition of the hackneyed, meaningless "winning the future." There were some classic heartwarming stories of American perseverance (who did not tear up when the guy who helped save the Chilean miners blushed and reached for his wife's hand?).
Including Kathy Proctor, described thusly:
"One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old," Obama said. "And she told me she's earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too."
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That's when Proctor mouthed, "That's me." Obama also shouted out his victory on Don't Ask Don't Tell. (When the camera panned to the military brass, who traditionally don't applaud, their faces were alarmingly rigid. Then again, Admiral Mike Mullen, who was heroic in that effort, was stoic too). Despite the fact that a seat was held empty for Gabrielle Giffords, there was no talk of gun control.
Alas, no one laughed or applauded at Obama's gripe that in case anyone hadn't noticed, the oil companies were doing just fine. So much for a populist moment.
What did stick: One joke about salmon regulation. NPR asked readers to say what they got from the speech, and this was the word cloud 4,000 of them produced:
Michelle Bachmann, gave her very own response after the official Republican one from Paul Ryan. Her presentation about the job-killing stimulus and the evils of light bulb regulation was overshadowed by the fact that she was looking into a camera for something called Tea Party HD, just to side of the feed that went to CNN. Her misdirected gaze — it's a metaphor!
Another symbolic touch: Senators and representatives paired with the opposite party, such that instead of one half of the room rising to clap, roughly every other person clapped. (Nancy Pelosi publicly snubbed Eric Cantor as her date to the dance. Twitter—that's cold.) Roll Call had the right idea about this whole charade. Are the Democrats Balki, since they hate America and love jobstealing foreigners?
President Obama's State Of The Union Speech [NYT]
The State Of The Union, In Your Words [NPR]
Michelle Bachmann's Turn [Politico]
Perfect Strangers [Roll Call]