There is much to critique about what was included and omitted in last night’s State of the Union address. But one particular omission bears mentioning, as it reflects poorly on the man delivering the address.
There is something of a tradition that when a member of the House or Senate is absent from the chamber during the State of the Union because he or she is battling a grave illness, the president addressing Congress acknowledges them in his remarks. In 2007, for example, Senator Tim Johnson suffered a stroke before the State of the Union, and President George W. Bush began his address with a prayer for his “recovery and speedy return” (and that of Representative Charlie Norwood who was battling cancer and passed away the following month).
So it was striking last night that President Obama made no mention whatsoever of Senator Mark Kirk, who suffered a stroke over the weekend and is recovering in a Chicago hospital. The omission is all the more striking because Kirk is from the president’s home state of Illinois and occupies his old Senate seat. It would have taken one line, elicited raucous applause, lifted Kirk’s spirits, and added a bipartisan note to an otherwise partisan address. But it either did not occur to the president or he could not be bothered.
This does not mean Kirk was forgotten last night. Senator Joe Manchin, who was planning to sit together with Kirk in a show of bipartisanship, paid tribute to his colleague by keeping the seat he would have occupied empty. It is unfortunate the president couldn’t offer a single sentence to honor him as well.