The Eternal State of the Union

Why does every SOTU sound eerily familiar? Because presidents have been saying the same things for a half-century.



What will President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address look like tonight? We can be pretty sure Obama will talk about improving the economy, creating jobs for the 21st century, achieving energy independence, improving our schools, confronting America's enemies, championing the global cause of freedom, tackling long-term entitlements, and building bipartisan coalitions to rise above political bickering and do the people's work, at this hinge point in history.

That's because every State of the Union has contained all or most of these nostrums stretching back a half-century. In fact, starting with John F. Kennedy's address to a joint session of Congress in 1961, you could take one sentence from each SOTU since, in chronological order, and cobble together a speech that will likely resemble much of what you'll hear tonight.

So that's precisely what I've done. Without further ado.


I speak today in an hour of national peril and national opportunity. This week we begin anew our joint and separate efforts to build the American future. For you and I are privileged to serve the great Republic in what could be the most decisive decade in its long history. We have a unique opportunity and obligation—to prove the success of our system; to disprove those cynics and critics at home and abroad who question our purpose and our competence.

We do not intend to live in the midst of abundance, isolated from neighbors and nature, confined by blighted cities and bleak suburbs, stunted by a poverty of learning and an emptiness of leisure. I have come here to recommend that you, the representatives of the richest Nation on earth, you, the elected servants of a people who live in abundance unmatched on this globe, you bring the most urgent decencies of life to all of your fellow Americans.

We should strengthen the Head Start program, begin it for children 3 years old, and maintain its educational momentum by following through in the early years. And to give the consumer a stronger voice, I plan to appoint a consumer counsel in the Justice Department—a lawyer for the American consumer—to work directly under the Attorney General, to serve the President's Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs, and to serve the consumers of this land.

Although the struggle for progressive change is continuous, there are times when a watershed is reached—when there is—if not really a break with the past—at least the fulfillment of many of its oldest hopes, and a stepping forth into a new environment, to seek new goals. Clean air, clean water, open spaces—these should once again be the birthright of every American. With the stimulus and the discipline of a full employment budget, with the commitment of the independent Federal Reserve System to provide fully for the monetary needs of a growing economy, and with a much greater effort on the part of labor and management to make their wage and price decisions in the light of the national interest and their own self-interest—then for the worker, the farmer, the consumer, for Americans everywhere we shall gain the goal of a new prosperity: more jobs, more income, more profits, without inflation and without war.

There is ample precedent, in this election year, for me to present you with a huge list of new proposals, knowing full well that there would not be any possibility of your passing them if you worked night and day. But we must never forget that nothing worthwhile can be achieved without the will to succeed and the strength to sacrifice.

I pledge to you tonight that the full powers of this government will be used to keep America's economy producing and to protect the jobs of America's workers. Let us mobilize the most powerful and most creative industrial nation that ever existed on this Earth to put all our people to work. We must introduce a new balance to our economy—a balance that favors not only sound, active government but also a much more vigorous, healthy economy that can create new jobs and hold down prices. We must revise our tax system both to ease the burden of heavy taxation and to encourage the investment necessary for the creation of productive jobs for all Americans who want to work.

We've come through a long period of turmoil and doubt, but we've once again found our moral course, and with a new spirit, we are striving to express our best instincts to the rest of the world. Americans as a united people, working with our allies and friends, have never been afraid to face problems and to solve problems, either here or abroad. As we meet tonight, it has never been more clear that the state of our Union depends on the state of the world. We must have both the military power and the political will to deter our adversaries and to support our friends and allies. By restoring America's military credibility, by pursuing peace at the negotiating table wherever both sides are willing to sit down in good faith, and by regaining the respect of America's allies and adversaries alike, we have strengthened our country's position as a force for peace and progress in the world.

America's leadership in the world came to us because of our own strength and because of the values which guide us as a society: free elections, a free press, freedom of religious choice, free trade unions, and above all, freedom for the individual and rejection of the arbitrary power of the state. We are just now restoring, through the essential modernization of our conventional and strategic forces, our capability to meet our present and future security needs. And tonight, we declare anew to our fellow citizens of the world: Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few; it is the universal right of all God's children.

Closing our eyes will not make reality disappear. And let there be no mistake about American policy: We will not sit idly by if our interests or our friends in the Middle East are threatened, nor will we yield to terrorist blackmail. As the global democratic revolution has put totalitarianism on the defensive, we have left behind the days of retreat.

And so, tonight we must take a strong America and make it even better. Our nation is the enduring dream of every immigrant who ever set foot on these shores, and the millions still struggling to be free. Together, these last 2 years, we've put dollars for child care directly in the hands of parents instead of bureaucracies; unshackled the potential of Americans with disabilities; applied the creativity of the marketplace in the service of the environment, for clean air; and made home ownership possible for more Americans. Further, for the untold number of hard-working, responsible American workers and business men and women who've been forced to go without needed bank loans, the banking credit crunch must end.

It has been too long, at least three decades, since a President has come and challenged Americans to join him on a great national journey, not merely to consume the bounty of today but to invest for a much greater one tomorrow. As we protect our environment, we must invest in the environmental technologies of the future which will create jobs. I want us to cut more spending, but I hope we won't cut government programs that help to prepare us for the new economy, promote responsibility, and are organized from the grassroots up, not by federal bureaucracy.

I challenge every community, every school, and every state to adopt national standards of excellence, to measure whether schools are meeting those standards, to cut bureaucratic red-tape so that schools and teachers have more flexibility for grassroots reform, and to hold them accountable for results. So tonight I issue a call to action: action by this Congress, action by our states, by our people, to prepare America for the 21st century; action to keep our economy and our democracy strong and working for all our people; action to strengthen education and harness the forces of technology and science; action to build stronger families and stronger communities and a safer environment; action to keep America the world's strongest force for peace, freedom, and prosperity; and above all, action to build a more perfect Union here at home. It is a time to build, to build the America within reach, an America where everybody has a chance to get ahead with hard work; where every citizen can live in a safe community; where families are strong, schools are good, and all our young people can go on to college; an America where scientists find cures for diseases from diabetes to Alzheimer's to AIDS; an America where every child can stretch a hand across a keyboard and reach every book ever written, every painting ever painted, every symphony ever composed; where government provides opportunity and citizens honor the responsibility to give something back to their communities; an America which leads the world to new heights of peace and prosperity.

By 2032, the Trust Fund will be exhausted and Social Security will be unable to pay the full benefits older Americans have been promised. Tonight I ask you to work with me to make a bipartisan downpayment on Social Security reform by crediting the interest savings from debt reduction to the Social Security Trust Fund so that it will be strong and sound for the next 50 years.

Year after year in Washington, budget debates seem to come down to an old, tired argument: on one side, those who want more Government, regardless of the cost; on the other, those who want less Government, regardless of the need. My budget supports three great goals for America: We will win this war; we will protect our homeland; and we will revive our economy. In a whirlwind of change and hope and peril, our faith is sure; our resolve is firm; and our Union is strong.

We can press on with economic growth and reforms in education and Medicare, or we can turn back to old policies and old divisions. Now, as we see a little gray in the mirror—or a lot of gray— [laughter]—and we watch our children moving into adulthood, we ask the question: What will be the state of their Union? Will we choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy, or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity? With enough good sense and good will, you and I can fix Medicare and Medicaid and save Social Security.

The strength—the secret of our strength, the miracle of America is that our greatness lies not in our Government, but in the spirit and determination of our people. While our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before. It's because of this spirit, this great decency and great strength, that I have never been more hopeful about America's future than I am tonight.

God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Matt Welch is editor in chief of Reason magazine.

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  1. "Let me be clear........I did not read this whole article...."

  2. Mo' money, mo' money, mo' money.

  3. There was a flood, an earthquake, my suit didn't come back from the cleaners, a friend came in from out of town...



    1. It's the Chicago way.

      1. I approve this message.

        1. I'd considered a Blues Brothers cover for Obama's SoTU (instead of Danzig), but none of them sounded right. Except maybe "Rubber Biscuit."

          1. Put on Dark Side of the Moon. It shouldn't sync up, but enough weed would make it SEEM like it does.

    2. No, I didn't. Honest... I ran out of gas. I... I had a flat tire. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN'T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!

  4. It has been too long, at least three decades, since a President has come and challenged Americans...

    Tha Carter II. A winning theme.

    Are Obama's speeches still written by kids? They're just so dumb.

    1. That's Clinton I, actually. I've inserted links to all the speeches.

    2. Am I unique in sort of not wanting my President to 'challenge' me?

      1. Not unique. Unusual, perhaps.

        Personally, I see political speakers as saying things they think will sound grand than saying things that actually need saying. They seek to grab people by the adrenals and squueeeze.

  5. Now that the president is singing, I think he should sing the entire State of the Union address:

    Tell your children not to walk my way.
    Tell your children not to hear my words,
    What they mean,
    What they say,

    Can you keep 'em in the dark for life.
    Can you hide them from the waiting world.
    Oh, mother.

    Gonna take your daughter out tonight.
    Gonna show her my world.
    Oh, father.

    Not about to see your light,
    And if you wanna find hell with me,
    I can show you what it's like
    Till I'm bleeding.

    Not about to see your light,
    And if you wanna find hell with me
    I can show you what it's. . . .

    Tell your children not to hold my hand.
    Tell your children not to understand.
    Oh, mother.

    Do you wanna bang heads with me.
    Do you wanna feel everything.
    Oh, father.

    Not about to see your light,
    And if you wanna find hell with me,
    I can show you what it's like
    Till I'm bleeding.

    Not about to see your light,
    And if you wanna find hell with me,
    I can show you what it's. . . .


    Not about to see your light,
    And if you wanna find hell with me,
    I can show you what it's like
    Till you're bleeding.

    Not about to see your light,
    And if you wanna find hell with me,
    I can show you what it's like.

    1. ProL quoting Danzig. That's got to be a first.

      Cybernetic Ghost: (about Danzig) I cannot stand that guy. He is so annoying, he is so frightening, and he doesn't wear a shirt.

      Master Shake: You make our house bleed right now!

      1. It's not me so much as Obama. The line, "And if you wanna find hell with me, I can show you what it's like" seemed appropriate for where Obama would like to take this nation.

    2. I'd go with "The Real Me" by W.A.S.P.

      1. The original by The Who would be better.

      2. The original by The Who would be better.

  6. Great speech! Long-winded, but inspiring! At the end I closed my eyes and imagined I were standing in Red Square, hearing a rousing chorus of "The Internationale".

  7. Epic. Were the sentences taken in chronlogical order of the speeches?


      1. How do you think the tardis got so hollowed out?

        1. Dr Who was late on his furniture payments and it all got repo'ed?

  8. dammit reason now that I know the sotu is tonight i have to make sure my roommate doesn't find it or else ill have to hear it.

    can we be a little more covert about these things?

  9. Nice. But it looks like more than 50 sentences to me. Somebody is getting used more than once (or are speeches other than SOTUs being included?).

    1. Scratch that. There are just so many run-on sentences it looks like more than 50!

    1. Hmmmm. Looks like Team Blue propaganda to me.

    2. asked

    3. Ah, Michael Lind. That would be the guy who wrote Vietnam: The Necessary War.

      Sounds like the guy you want defending government.

      1. It's Lewis H. Of *course* he's going to spout that kind of shit.

  10. Even money says this is better than what Obama delivers in a couple of hours.

    1. Well, what could he possibly say? He'll say things would've been worse without him and that we shouldn't change horses in midstream.

      1. "The training wheels are now off! Join me on my bicycle, America, as we pedal our way to energy independence and a socially conscious future!" [Jogs out of the chamber, gesturing for everyone to follow him.]

        1. In a terrycloth jogging suit would be fucking epic.

        2. But in all seriousness, the first thing I think of when I read your hilarious fantasy quote, is Mayor McScwinn.

  11. I cannot listen to the Bamster talk anymore. Pavlov's dog - his voice comes on, I start throwing shit at the TV/radio.

    So I'll miss another SOTU for DVR'ed "Twilight Zones" from SciFi channel.


    1. I watched the Manos: The Hands of Fate episode of MST3K.

      1. I'd rather hear Torgo give a speech too.

        1. The Big Bang Theory.

  12. A kind of Welchenstein's monster delivering the State of the Union Address. "It's alive!" Freaky.

    Where is the live blogging (tweeting, whatever) taking place? I demand it be presented to me forthwith.

  13. Wait a second. George W. Bush did veer pretty hard from the SOTU script and go on a tangent about steroids in baseball, right? Wasn't that a SOTU where he did that?

    1. Yes. And they all put in their little flourishes, to be sure. For instance, Clinton? 5,000-word sentences. And Carter's '81 is like 100,000 words long.

      1. Carter's '81?

        Holy crap! All that tardis talk above... Steve Smith raped the tardis and broke time!

  14. drinking game:

    1 Drink:
    Win The Future
    Going Back to Space
    "Politics as usual"
    Something something rebuild our public schools
    Green Jobs/economy/energy independence
    China (finish your drink if phrase yellow scourge is used)
    "let me be clear"
    "There are those..."
    Well Lubricated

    discussing the citizen's united decision
    High Speed Rail
    pop culture reference used to show the kids he "gets" them

    1. drinking game:

      No points, because you won't hear anything about:
      gun violence
      fast and furious

    2. You left out one of many variations of wealth-envy tag lines, jimmy.

      But a man could DRINK! himself to death from that...

  15. When I become dictator, the State of the Union will go back to being in writing.

    1. If you're serving Gingrich, I'll take 4 more years of Obama thank you very much

  16. Welcome to the United States, where we celebrate the concept success and punish those who achieve it all at the same time.

    "Everyone should pay their fair share" is a nice sounding piece of rhetoric, but as many on here note, the majority of the rich earned those large incomes through legal means, it's their money, and letting them keep more of it is not a "gift". But the president and the Congress seem to think that all the money actually belongs to them, and that they're just being nice by letting us keep enough of it to eat (but if things keep going the way they are, we'll lose that money, too, and all we'll be left with is government cheese to dine on).

    Now I differ from many on here in that I do think some taxes are necessary. Granted, there was a time that the government didn't need to tax people to get the money they needed to run the country, but that was also a different age, when people felt that buying bonds was their duty as citizens, right along with military service and tithing faithfully. Now we're a nation of cynics that doesn't do much of anything unless we're coerced. Besides, we all do benefit in some way, shape or form from the government's services, so why shouldn't we all "pay our fair share" (in this case, the emphasis is on the word "fair" rather than the word "pay")?

    But what needs to happen really is Congress and the administration need to rein in spending, not keep robbing us taxpayers so they can support their various pork projects and sacred cows. There's a new political ad that shows clips of every president Reagan to Obama decrying how spending is out of hand and they need to do something about it ... but nothing ever happens. It doesn't matter if it's Republican administrations or Democratic administrations, nothing ever happens.

    And when the government does raise taxes under the ruse of paying down the debt, instead, they come up with even more pork projects and sacred cows to support, usually more pork than what can really be supported by the tax increases. And so we pay more, but instead of seeing the debt go down, it continues to spiral.

    After all, why should Congress exercise any restraint? It's not their money they're spending.

    It's our own fault, though. We keep electing these bozos. Much as Americans are mad at the Congress and as low as their approval ratings are, they keep voting the same people back into office. We all need to realize that if Congress is doing a bad job, then that starts with *our* congressman and senator, and they need to be voted out.

    1. Yes. Peabo talked about how he was going to:

      Raise taxes on rich people
      Encourage rich people to hire more

      Reduce deficits
      Spend more on infrastructure

      So we're going to punish companies to encourage hiring, and save money by spending more? The man's a wizard. And he definitely, absolutely, irrefutably loves government.

      1. Democrats have always loved government. The old joke is that Democrats are very generous people ... when it's other people's money they're spending. They think the government is the answer to all the world's woes. Apparently the government's track record of having an anti-Midas touch (everything they come in contact with turns to shit) has no bearing.

        Of course, the neocons aren't a whole lot better. They spend as recklessly as Democrats do, just on different stuff.

  17. Did anybody notice that he called for
    1. Taxing American companies international subsidiaries as much as their taxed here. The end result is that companies will just leave the United States completely and then we'll get zero taxes from them. I actually know some companies have already done this.
    2. He called for states to force kids to stay in High school until they are 18. this will cause several problems. One they will be stuck at school and just cause trouble which will downgrading the system even more and two it will require police to waist time rounding up those who aren't at school and then they will have a police record just because they didn't go to school.
    3. I turned him off at 40 minutes into the speech because it was exactly what he said before so no need to listen anymore.

  18. No mention of the debt crisis, inflation, Fast & Furious, Brian Terry, Keystone XL, or the cost of ObamaCare premiums....last night's State of the Union was pathetic and completely unrestricted by the truth.

    J Robert Giles


  19. Matt,
    I enjoyed listening to your interview on the Jerry Doyle Show today. Great discussion. It seems that we might be locked into a crash course that only the devastation of the crash itself will get us out of. Those waiting for what they think is the inevitable cycle back into prosperity are going to get very ugly when they finally realize that the left and the right are both responsible for the mess we're in and that neither has a plan that will make things better and that, in fact, will make the inevitable collapse even more spectacular.

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