I found a phrase – ‘Ticket to Oblivion’ in today’s Washington Post article titled ‘State of the Union ‘response’ often a mixed-blessing for the responder.’

I understand this phrase refers to difficulty of making ‘Response addresses,’ which tend to be (or destined to be) outshone by State of Union well-prepared in advance. The article gives several examples of failed Response addresses in the past, such as one delivered by Jim Webb (D.Va.) in rebuking the then President Gorge W. Bush’s statement of Union in 2007.

However, what does 'ticket to oblivion' precisely mean? Is it a well-established English phrase? What's the origin of the phrase?

The article also says ‘Past response speeches show how hard it is to strike the right tone.’ I want to know the meaning of ‘strike/striking the right tone.’

Every year at this time, politicians say it's an honor to give the opposition party's "response" to the State of the Union Address. History proves this is usually false.

After [President Obama], as America's TV viewers get drowsier, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) will give the Republican response. This year, Ryan's job is made even more complicated by the fact that another Republican will give a "tea party" response after him.

"Have a 'ticket to oblivion,'" said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University, said about Ryan.

  • It's not very common (in British English), but I would assume it means something like "death wish" (in the figurative sense).
    – Noldorin
    Jan 25, 2011 at 23:56
  • Noldrin. Dictionary com defines 'death wish' as desire for one's (or for another's) death. So, you mean 'ticket for Oblivion' means a suicidal (kamikaze) wish to let the Response address maker go for broke, knowing his disadvanageous position to President as a speaker? Jan 26, 2011 at 1:09

4 Answers 4


There is also a political overtone to the use of this phrase. It is not normal to have two responses, one from a party followed by another from a subgroup within that party.

Hence the user of the term may be referring to his belief that this split in the republicans is their entire party's ticket to oblivion. Not just the time-worn habit of the responding speaking being destined to obscurity.


What "ticket to oblivion" means here — and, no, it's not a time-worn phrase, although it's not exactly fresh, either — is that the person who is chosen to give the response is not going to be remembered. The spectacle of the State of the Union address, and the office of the Presidency of the United States are so much greater and more memorable than ... well, whatever ... that no one will remember or care who gave the response. Everyone can name the first president of the United States, right? OK, who was the first vice-president? Who can even remember who gave the response to even one State of the Union address? Outside of the person who gave it, the number who can answer "I remember" to that question is vanishingly small. If this were a movie, the President would be the star and the respondent would be — no, not a co-star, or supporting actor, but an extra. And who remembers extras?

  • Robusto. In nutshell, a stuff destined to be forgotten or treatd as a trash now and in future? By the way can you tell me what 'strike the right tone' means? Jan 26, 2011 at 1:20
  • Yes, oblivion comes from the Latin for "forget", so yes, destined to be forgotten is a good way to put it. To strike the right tone is to find a way to come off sounding good, usually in public, when such a thing is not easy to do.
    – Robusto
    Jan 26, 2011 at 1:29

Robusto's answer is perfectly right. I just wanted to add that while "ticket to oblivion" itself is not a very common phrase, the basic form "ticket to X" is a fairly well-established construction to refer to something that is certain to lead one to X. For example, "ticket to fame", "ticket to hell", "ticket to nowhere" and so on. I've heard a friend refer to an exceedingly greasy burger as a "ticket to cholesterol city".

  • Rahul. Your examples are helphul to understand 'Ticket to X' usage. When I reflect, overeating, overdrinking and neglection of excercise in my prime of life were all the 'ticket to diabetes' and high blood pressure I've been suffering for years. Jan 26, 2011 at 3:19
  • Charlie, it was you, you remember that night down in the Garden you came in my dressing room and said, kid, this ain't your night... we're goin' for the price on Wilson, you remember that? This ain't your night? My night, I could've taken Wilson apart. So what happens? He gets a title shot outdoors in a ballpark, what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville. You was my brother, Charlie. You should've looked out for me. May 6, 2011 at 18:41

I do see what Noldorin is driving at with "death wish," but I would suggest this is a bit off the mark. "Ticket to oblivion" really just means "something (anything) that will cause someone to be forgotten." (So if someone intentionally buys a ticket to oblivion, you might say they have a sort of figurative "death wish.")

"Strike the right tone" means to utilize exactly the desired attitude, approach, or demeanor. In this case, the speaker may want to appear (and thereby have his entire political party appear) conciliatory or combative, collaborative or contentious, insightful, authoritative, energetic, thoughtful, etc. etc. etc. In this case, deciding on and finding the right words and delivery to convey the way the speaker wants his party to be perceived is the process of attempting to strike the right tone.

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