By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Here's the real story on the State of the Union address: As a speech, it's no big deal. The press today is in complete overdrive building up President Obama's need to hit it out of the ballpark tonight: He's at "the crossroads of his Presidency," says the New York Times; it's the "speech of his life," writes Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic; the morning shows were full of analysis along the lines of "the chips are down" and "the pressure is on"--that Obama needs to do well tonight to survive politically.
And while everyone in official Washington watches the State of the Union address, how many people in the rest of the country sit down for the entire hour long laundry list of legislative proposals? Not many, I bet. Most catch a video clip or two afterward on the 11 o'clock news or read about it in the paper the next day. It seems like every year the speech gets longer and longer, and the analysis from the talking heads does, too.
Every speechwriter wants to write an Inaugural Address--soaring rhetoric, unifying themes, a chance to make it into the history books. Not as many want to write a State of the Union--he or she has to weave in dozens of policy initiatives so that every cabinet member is happy, hit the majority of domestic and international issues, manage to insert partisan applause lines, drop in a reference to a guest or two in the balcony, and have everyone instantly declare it a masterpiece afterward. That's a tall order. There's a reason most people probably can't quote a single memorable line from a State of the Union address. And why collections of the world's greatest speeches generally don't contain State of the Union addresses. That's because it's speech-by-committee, with dozens and dozens of White House staffers and cabinet officials weighing in to lobby for their one sentence in it. I'll confess something no one else (except for my TJS colleague Robert Schlesinger) seems to want to admit: I think most of the State of the Union speech is usually pretty boring.
So I'll watch the speech tonight, but I really am taking this "make-or-break his presidency" spin with a grain of salt. The midterm elections seem far more important politically than anything that will happen tonight.