State of the Union

Most Americans Shrug at State of the Union Spectacle

As President Gerald Ford once said, "the state of the union is not good"


My fellow Americans, the State of the Union is … irrelevant.

Quick: Give me a memorable line from any of President Obama's previous five SOTUs. That's what I thought. I couldn't give you one offhand -- and it's my job to watch these pompous, unedifying spectacles and write about them.

The few enduring lines from past SOTUs stick out for irony value (Bill Clinton in 1996: "the era of big government is over"); because they herald a looming policy disaster (George W. Bush in 2002: "Axis of Evil") -- or for the rare outbreak of candor (Gerald Ford in 1975: "the state of the union is not good").

But most years, the speech gets submerged in the churn of the news cycle, little noted and not long remembered. It's unlikely that 2014 will be any different. In its modern form, the SOTU is a meaningless ritual that rarely even does the president — let alone the public — any good.

That's bad news for a chief executive whose chief talent is speechifying. "I have a gift, Harry," then-Sen. Obama unhumblebragged to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) some years ago, in the afterglow of a well-received speech. But according to the polling data and the political science research, it's a gift that won't keep on giving.

"There is overwhelming evidence that presidents, even ?great communicators,' rarely move the public in their direction," writes George C. Edwards III, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M University. "Going public does not work." In a 2013 analysis of SOTU polling, Gallup found that "most presidents have shown an average decrease in approval of one or more points between the last poll conducted before the State of the Union and the first one conducted afterward."

As the speech has become less important, presidents' rhetoric has grown more frantically stentorian. Presidential scholar Elvin T. Lim notes "increasing rhetorical assertiveness" and "an increasing lack of humility" in the language of the SOTU over time. Modern presidents speak more often of "reform," while "references to (and hence concern for) the Constitution and constitutional in the annual messages have declined."

You'd hardly imagine it from watching the speech, but the SOTU has constitutional roots, in the duty imposed on the president by Article II, sec. 3: "he shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

Modern presidents do a lot more hectoring than recommending, treating the SOTU as an occasion to tell Congress what to do. That doesn't mean Congress actually does it: The speech is "high volume, low yield" in terms of legislative success, as a recent Associated Press analysis puts it.

Which, no doubt, is why the administration is signaling that tonight's SOTU will be less about telling Congress what to do than it is about telling them what he plans to do without them. This will be "a year of action," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Sunday, and the president will "bypass Congress where necessary to lift folks who want to come up into the middle class." The White House has hinted at unilateral action on issues like carbon emissions, student loans, and job training. "We need to show the American people that we can get something done," says presidential adviser Dan Pfeiffer.

It seems the president plans to go it alone, loudly. But in a recent Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll, 55 percent of Americans disapproved of presidents "taking executive action when Congress is gridlocked." He'll have to talk them into liking it.

This column originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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  1. Most Americans do, but not Reason, which won't shut up about this boring spectacle. I'm glad I have work tonight.

  2. If Obama wore a hat for his speech, what kind of hat would it be?

      1. this would perhaps be the most entertaining speech he ever made, if he did wear it.

      2. If he's going with flaming stove pipe he should go all out Papa Legba.

        1. Or Baron Samedi would probably be more like it.

          1. nothing says Demon Deacon like that hat.

      3. I was hoping for a stove pipe hat that actually on fire. I might tune in to watch if that were the case.

    1. Probably a popehat, given his belief in his own infallibility. He should wear this.

      1. Of course there is always this:

    2. An asshat.

    3. It's not really a hat. It's more of a helmet. Like the ones the "special" kids wear.

      1. One of those helmets with hair on the outside to disguise that he's wearing it?

        1. Is that a thing?

          1. When I was a kid, they used to have them for epileptics, but I couldn't find one on Google to link to.

            I suspect wearing a helmet is acceptable enough now that there is no demand...

    4. "If Obama wore a hat for his speech, what kind of hat would it be?"

      Since he fancies himself to be an Emperor rather than President, he would wear one of those Roman wreath crowns - called a corona radiata.

  3. SOTU? STFU!

  4. "Most Americans Shrug at State of the Union Spectacle"

    Particularly when the speech is delivered by a proven liar. All we need is the claim that he's 'not a crook'.

    1. I don't shrug so much as just turn the channel as fast as I can to anything else. Anything.

    2. I'm doing other people's taxes and THAT will be more fun than listening to politicians lie to each other.

  5. The State of the Union has become the Oscars or the Grammys. A bunch of washed up celebs rambling incoherently about stuff nobody cares about.

    1. Unfortunately, I can just turn off the Oscars and Grammys, and nothing those celebs do will affect me. Not so much with the SOTU.

  6. I've blown through the first 4 seasons of Breaking Bad on Netflix.

    SOTU or season 5, episode 1? Yeah, not a tough decision.

    1. I'll be finishing up the final season of Battlestar Galactica tonight. Doesn't quite hold up on a second viewing, but still a lot better than politicians making speeches.

      1. Hope the ending is less confusing this time.

        1. It won't be any less stupid, unfortunately.

      2. Seasons 1 & 2 is GS is some of the best television ever. It's became merely "okay" to "fairly good" to "wtf?!?!" after that; too bad they just couldn't keep it together.

    2. Damn. Might want to get your blood pressure tested. I went a similar tear, then had to take a break to calm down.

      1. I think I would need it tested if I opted for the SOTU instead.

  7. Most Americans don't give a shit about the SOTU because they're rightly more interested in the state of their own universe, e.g. whether they're employed, can pay their bills, their families are healthy, etc.

  8. My cubemate no longer keeps a pack of smokes in the desk drawer. I suppose it's better that way so I don't go stand outside in the cold.

  9. I'm gonna leave this here for Epi --

    Update for Borderlands 2, Adding a Colorblind Mode to Borderlands 2.:

    Given loot a labrat steals from you is orange instead of yellow, you may have had a problem getting the right shit back in co-op.

    1. I saw that yesterday. I've pretty much managed to discern the color differences between loot in B2, so this won't make much difference to me. Plus I have over 100 Golden Keys still.

  10. Obama's entire speech can be summarized to "I fart in your general direction".

    1. +Eleventy African swallows.

        1. I don't know!

  11. I have to disagree.

    SOTU speeches were highly effective during Dumbya's reign of terror.

    "Yellowcake", "evildoers", "mushroom cloud", "Axis of Evil" and other expressions became commonplace until the reality of Iraq made his doctrine into trivia.

    1. And the Yabbut Bush still flourishes in soil fertilized from the dunghill that is Buttplug's brain.

    2. PB Here is something to keep you pissed off, or Even trolls need to eat.

  12. I can give you at least on line from one of Obama's State of the Union speeches

    "I'm willing to listen to the republicans but the time to talk is over"

    So essentially you can talk till your blue in the face it will not change a thing. And I can give you one that will be in tonights speech.

    "I'm willing to work with congress but I won't hesitate to us my executive power"

    since in his world not letting him do everything he wants is obstructionist and therefore he has no choice but to act.

    1. "nd I can give you one that will be in tonights speech."

      Plus: "Let me be clear"; "Make no mistake"

      1. "there are those who..."

        1. Ah, yes, the straw man argument. Always a good backstop.

  13. Thanks to the myriad of options on television, the net, etc... why would anyone watch this? It has been a dozen years since I did.

    Were I the President, I would go back to sending a letter over to Congress. "Government overreaches everywhere, spends to much and takes even more. Knock it off you putzes. Sincerely, Me"

    1. ... and enjoy the butthurt as the journolisters bloviate about a President who refuses to behave imperially.

    2. I watch because the yelling, stomping, and throwing shit is the closest thing I get to a cardio work-out these days.

    3. Totally agree! Tell the press that this year you're sending a letter to congress and btw, please spend all the cash we intended to waste on this fiasco on deficit reduction. That is all.

  14. If Obama wore a hat for his speech, what kind of hat would it be?

    A beret. Most likely raspberry.


    1. if Scalia is there wearing the Thomas More, then the Henry VIII is the way to go.

    2. The kind you find in a second hand store?

  15. "Yellowcake", "evildoers", "mushroom cloud", "Axis of Evil" and other expressions became commonplace until the reality of Iraq made his doctrine into trivia.


    1. All hail shrike, the world's most tiresome one-note joke.

      1. Isn't it funny that whenever you point out something Obama did wrong, the first thing his supporters do is rip on Bush? Dude's been out of office since 2008 and yet they still bring him up.

      2. The topic was how no one paid attention to the SOTU address. If true, it is only in the last half dozen years as I point out.

        1. The topic was how no one paid attention to the SOTU address. If true, it is only in the last half dozen years as I point out.

          Way to point out the obvious dickwad.

    2. Which makes more sense: PBP or Anonbot?

      1. Anonbot is on topic more often, but rarely has anything to say that I disagree with.

        1. Soemtimes you jsut have to roll with it!

  16. I can very well sum up tonight's State of the Union:

    1. The rich aren't paying their fair share.
    2. Minimum wage needs to be raised.
    3. I want to work with the GOP but they are mean to me so I will go around Congress to get shit done because damn it, I am right and brilliant.
    4. I know Obamacare came off a little shakey but we are super cereal when we say that it will work. Come on, give it a chance.
    5. We can't allow Iran to get nuclear weapons but have no idea what the fuck to do, so I will offer up threats and platitudes.
    6. Oh yeah, let us not forget infastructure.
    7. We need to inact gun control laws because even though it will do nothing to stop mass shootings, we have to make the appearence of doing something. And fuck the NRA.
    8. Perhaps the NSA data mining has gotten a little out of control but I am doing it for your own good. There are people out there who want to hurt you. Why do you want the terrorists to win?

    1. Perfect summation. Just through in a few "let me be clear"s and "there are those who"s and the speech is done.

        1. through = throw

          Is that what you were referring to?

          1. I figured he was adding Uhh... to the list of things Obama will say.

      1. You did leave out:

        9. Free shit for everyone!
        10. There are lots of magical ways to get rid of evil carbon based energies...
        hey, look over there, Elvis!

    2. let us not forget infastructure.

      I predict that will be the *exact* utterance.

    3. I'm going out on a limb and saying you're right, but I disagree with the order.

    4. To go along with the gun control he will of course talk about another school shooting that occurred in his home state of Hawaii just today.


    Venezuela passed a 30% profit cap law. Entrepreneurs DOA. Suppliers and producers can't get out fast enough.

    SUNDDE will "fix maximum prices for the production or importation, distribution and consumption according to their importance and strategic nature for the benefit of the population as well as the technical criteria for assessing the levels of exchange equitable and fair of goods and services."

    1. Once their foreign currency reserves run out, they are toast. Hyperinflation imminent.

      1. My neighb's foreign student this semester is Venezuelan. I wonder if she's happy with all the capital controls...

        The annual allowance for online purchases abroad has also been reduced, from US $400 to US $300 per credit-card holding citizen.

        If she was smart, she'd never go back.

        Although there's some interesting currency plays for the less risk averse.

        They then receive the dollars in cash by swiping their card, and instead of spending the money on holiday, return to Venezuela to sell the dollars on the black market for over ten times what they originally paid for them.

        1. "sell the dollars on the black market for over ten times what they originally paid for them."

          Good luck with that, because by the time you take it back out of your pocket, it's already devalued another 50%.

      2. The market no doubt will be blamed.



    2. SUNDDE will "fix maximum prices for the production or importation, distribution and consumption according to their importance and strategic nature for the benefit of the population as well as the technical criteria for assessing the levels of exchange equitable and fair of goods and services."

      It's almost as if repeating past actions causes the same results no matter what decade it's tried in!

      1. Is that from Venezuela or a preview of Obama's speech?

    3. "Let's dump more buckets of water into the sinking ship!!!"

    4. Why do people keep trying things like this? It's almost right out of Atlas Shrugged.

      1. Because it will work this time, with the right Top Men!


        1. It will work if the punishment for non-compliance is harsher.

          /prog 2.0

  18. The only reason to watch the SOTU is the increasingly high probability of witnessing an historic event, like the Supremes walking out or Michelle yelling "You lie!"

    1. Fuck, at this point, why bother even showing up?

  19. Imagine being a congress critter at this spectacle: A mandatory high school pep rally at which half the attendees want the cheerleader's team to lose.

    1. They don't want the team to lose, but they do want to see the head cheerleader fall off the top of the pyramid and break something.

      Everyone notices that the chunky less popular cheerleaders at the bottom are a lot less enthusiastic then they've been in the past.

      1. Rubbish! Chuck Shumer and his moobs are still energetic and happy and hopey-changey!!!!

        1. His spirit is willing but his flesh is spongy and bruised?

    2. I'm always a little surprised that the prez, v-p, and speaker are all there. Granted, some massive catastrophe is unlikely but why give Leahy or John Kerry any ideas?

  20. I might be interested in the State of the Union address if anything Obama had said in the past 6 years represented his actions in any way whatsoever.

    That said, I have no interest in anything he has to say or has said.

    1. If he makes a promise, should I trust him, or know that he might break it for my own good?

      1. Depends; I just pretend he means the exact opposite of what he says. It's frighteningly accurate, so I'd trust that.

        1. I don't know if the exact opposite is completely accurate, but it is a 100% lock that whatever he says is guaranteed to not happen.

  21. I don't get TV in my shop outbuilding, I'll have bandwidth tied up for something else tonight, and I usually have music going, so I won't find a radio for NPR coverage, either. Tomorrow morning, I'll only need a minute to browse through what everyone thinks the highlights are.

  22. "The prudence and temperance of your discussions will promote within your own walls that conciliation which so much befriends rational conclusion, and by its example will encourage among our constituents that progress of opinion which is tending to unite them in object and in will. That all should be satisfied with any one order of things is not to be expected; but I indulge the pleasing persuasion that the great body of our citizens will cordially concur in honest and disinterested efforts which have for their object to preserve the General and State Governments in their constitutional form and equilibrium; to maintain peace abroad, and order and obedience to the laws at home; to establish principles and practices of administration favorable to the security of liberty and property, and to reduce expenses to what is necessary for the useful purposes of Government."
    T.Jefferson's first SOTU 12/8/1801

    1. If the Lightworker actually gave a speech of under 250 words, I would be impressed. I would also be amused by the reaction of the press corps.

    2. Read the whole message here:

      Among the treats therein:

      "Among those who are dependent on Executive discretion I have begun the reduction of what was deemed unnecessary. The expenses of diplomatic agency have been considerably diminished. The inspectors of internal revenue who were found to obstruct the accountability of the institution have been discontinued. Several agencies created by Executive authorities, on salaries fixed by that also, have been suppressed, and should suggest the expediency of regulating that power by law, so as to subject its exercises to legislative inspection and sanction."

  23. my neighbor's mother makes $89 hourly on the laptop . She has been out of a job for 8 months but last month her pay was $14653 just working on the laptop for a few hours. read this for more work detail go tech tab....


  24. Season 3 of Walking Dead is on my schedule.

    1. Not sure which would be more disappointing, honestly.

  25. I think that the best use of the State of the Union speech would be to remind people that the left lane is for passing, the purpose of an on ramp is to get up to highway speed and that all-you-can-eat buffets are only for special occasions, not three times a week.

    1. And that unless you are a total douchebag you should tip at least 15%...

  26. like Dorothy answered I didnt even know that any one able to profit $6158 in four weeks on the computer. pop over here W? o? r? k? s? 7? 7? .? ?? ?? ??

  27. "...the president will "bypass Congress where necessary to lift folks who want to come up into the middle class."

    Q: How will you lift folks up into the middle class?

    A: We will give them money.

    Q: Where will you get the money?

    A: From the middle class.

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