Dana Milbank cited weak applause as a basis for calling President Obama’s State of the Union speech “uninspiring” [“The ex-speaker, giving Obama a hand,” op-ed, Jan. 25]. But this is like saying a 200-pound schoolchild who leaves broccoli on his plate needs more red meat. Do we really want more speeches that prod the crowd into applause while dodging realities that are more thought-provoking?

The State of the Union speeches have already become so littered with applause that they are difficult to watch. Are members of Congress and other onlookers genuinely moved to clap, or are they doing so because everyone else in their circle is clapping?

Democracy by decibel will not work, and it is not surprising that Newt Gingrich, the presidential candidate claiming leadership qualities because he has a populist base of applauding followers, does not want to participate in debates where applause is dampened.

Nathan Stoltzfus, Washington

I think Courtland Milloy’s Jan. 25 Metro column, “For Rubenstein, hitting economic jackpot began with education,” held the answer to many of the problems touched on during President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Mr. Milloy wrote of David M. Rubenstein’s philanthropy and of how he was able to donate such a huge sum to help repair the Washington Monument. Mr. Rubenstein grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Baltimore. Mr. Rubenstein said, “I realized that, if you’re going to get somewhere in life, you’ve got to be able to communicate what you want.  So I tried very hard to learn how to be a speaker, how to write and talk intelligently, and also read a lot to learn as much about the world as possible.”

Perhaps sitting around waiting for the government to provide another “free” program is not the answer for anyone who is struggling. Maybe the answers can be found in school (free through grade 12 in this country), in the public library (free to all in this country) and in taking some personal responsibility and initiative.

Victoria Carney, McLean