Opinion: State of the Union rude-down

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It’s the debate heard round the blogosphere: Who was ruder -- President Obama, for dissing the Supreme Court in his State of the Union speech with the justices in attendance, or Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., for mouthing ‘not true’ when Obama said the court’s actions will ‘open the floodgates’ to foreign corporations spending money without limits in U.S. elections?

I give the rudeness edge to Obama. Even if his characterization of the court’s decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission was perfectly correct -- and it wasn’t -- there was a coarseness to the criticism that would have been distasteful even if Alito and Co. weren’t in the audience. The words that Obama inserted before the offending phrase -- ‘with all due deference to separation of powers...’ -- sounded Nixonian.


If your first reaction is to scold Alito for his outburst (more of an inburst), join me in this thought experiment. It’s 2018. At President Sarah Palin’s State of the Union address, she assails the Supreme Court for its ruling that laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples were unconstitutional. Says Madame President: ‘With all due deference to separation of powers, the Supreme Court reversed centuries of law that, I believe, will lead to the destruction of a sacred institution and incalculable harm to our children.’

Would you object if Justice Sonia Sotomayor, sitting in the audience, muttered ‘not true’?

-- Michael McGough