Let’s be blunt.
After four years of class warfare does anyone expect anything new or different in an Obama State of the Union?
Bueller? Anyone? Anyone?
Having done some of the work on a State of the Union, here’s the procedure for those who have never had the opportunity.
This is a formal document of State. In centuries gone by, some time after Jefferson, presidents ceased presenting these things in person. It was, I believe, Woodrow Wilson who brought back the notion of the president personally traveling to Capitol Hill to speak to a Joint Session of Congress.
The call goes out to every Cabinet department and agency to send in their wish list. It gets whittled down to reasonable lengths, then funneled to POTUS speechwriters and staff to shape into the current president’s agenda. And then made presentable for television purposes.
By the time television at the State of the Union arrived it began to be turned into a bit of a spectacle. JFK was the last president to do one of these televised events in the middle of the day. Somewhere during LBJ’s time this became the prime time event we know today.
It was Ronald Reagan who began the idea of having somebody in the gallery with the first lady who was relevant to a theme in the president’s speech. As it happened, there was a horrific plane crash in Washington shortly before Reagan’s 1982 State of the Union. It was snowing blizzard-style and an Air Florida jet, too much ice on its wings, lifted off from what is now, ironically, Reagan Airport. Following the Potomac it quickly lost altitude and slammed into the first span of the 14th Street Bridge, falling into the frozen river between the first and second spans. The plane was mostly submerged. This being downtown Washington DC the TV cameras were almost instantly present. They were there to record the actions of a passing driver and government employee by the name of Lenny Skutnik. Jumping into the Potomac, with the nation watching, he swam through the icy water to rescue a woman who was too weak to grasp a lifeline dropped by a hovering rescue helicopter. He got to the woman and was able to get her to shore – saving her life.
A handful of days later he was seated next to First Lady Nancy Reagan as the President looked up to him in the middle of his speech and said:
“Just two weeks ago, in the midst of a terrible tragedy on the Potomac, we saw again the spirit of American heroism at its finest the heroism of dedicated rescue workers saving crash victims from icy waters.
And we saw the heroism of one of our young Government employees, Lenny Skutnik, who, when he saw a woman lose her grip on the helicopter line, dived into the water and dragged her to safety.”
The Congress rose as one and applauded him. From that moment forward presidents have been finding somebody to put in the gallery and salute as part of their message.
Who will it be tonight? A child or parent from Newtown, Connecticut perhaps? To make the obvious point: personalizing a demand for more gun control.
It will be someone, I suspect. Someone who illustrates a key part of the Obama agenda.
And what will that agenda be?
One needs no crystal ball.
Some combination of class warfare, salted with gun control, self-congratulations for health care, an entire platter of spending proposals and claims that the spending is really – truly – already under control thanks to, but of course, President Obama.
He will look to put the Republicans on the defensive.
And unless they get their act together?
He will succeed.
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