The State of the Union Game: He Said What???

On the morning after the State of the Union Address, it’s appropriate to evaluate what the President said, and to speculate on the chances that his vision for the next four years will come to fruition. I don’t watch the State of the Union Address live. I used to, but back in the 1980’s I learned that members of Congress are given a copy of the text ahead of time and the respective party leaders mark on the text when party members are supposed to clap, stand, sit with arms folded, etc. There’s nothing spontaneous about the enthusiastic support, nor the grumpy scowls. Yet the media diligently counts the number of applause moments and compares them to past speeches as if this tells us anything about what the President is actually saying.

So each year I get up on the morning after the speech and read it with my cup of tea and my yellow highlighter as I seek to find genuine policy initiatives amongst the mandated homage that must be paid to our country, our soldiers, our poor, our hardworking farmers, etc. I’m not discounting the value of this homage, but it can easily disguise what the President is advocating for the coming four years.

After I’ve read the text, I take on the painful job of reading the analysis of political pundit and common citizen alike. It should be no surprise that sincere political analysts found some things to praise and some things to criticize in President Obama’s address. On the other hand, there are countless swooning pieces of praise by the President’s supporters and countless screams of “Lies, Lies, Lies” by those who don’t like him.

I posed this question on Congressman Benishek’s Facebook page yesterday, asking those who really dislike the President to tell me one thing they genuinely hoped the President would say that would give them any hope that the radical right and the President could find some common ground toward the type of problem solving we need. The only response I got was that the best thing the President could say was “I quit.” Surrounding that quip that made me laugh at its cleverness, were repeated claims that the President is a liar and nothing he says matters anyway.

This got me to wondering how these closed-minded and angry people would have reacted to past State of the Union Addresses. Is it nor more complicated than if you like the President you will love what he says, and if you loathe him there is nothing he can say to make you hopeful? In order to test this question, I went back and grabbed the texts of the last four State of the Union Addresses delivered by second term Presidents in the first year after their reelection. It seems to me that this particular address lets us see into the heart and mind of a freshly re-elected President who no longer has to worry about running again. The words he says cannot ever come back to haunt him in attack ads, so telling the truth doesn’t seem to have much of a penalty attached.

Over the next few days, I am going to post excerpts from the State of the Union Addresses delivered by Ronald Reagan (1985), Bill Clinton (1997), GW Bush (2005), and Barack Obama (2013). I won’t identify the speaker on the day I post the excerpts because I’m hoping you will play along with me and try to guess which President gave which speech. Obviously you can find the answer on the internet, but that would sort of spoil the fun. On subsequent days I will post the answers and add some commentary on each excerpt.

I hope you will use the comments feature on the blog to post your guesses and to explain why you picked what you picked. As always, name calling and silliness don’t get approved for posting, so please join in the fun in a civilized way. The speeches are labeled with Roman numerals for your easy reference. The only editing I have done is to remove any reference to a specific event or person which would make the game too easy. Good luck, have fun, and most importantly, learn something!

Speech I:
“Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger. It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class. It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love. It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.”

Speech II:
“I come before you to report on the state of our Union, and I’m pleased to report that after 4 years of united effort, the American people have brought forth a nation renewed, stronger, freer, and more secure than before. Four years ago we began to change, forever I hope, our assumptions about government and its place in our lives. Out of that change has come great and robust growth–in our confidence, our economy, and our role in the world.”

Speech III:
“Tonight, with a healthy, growing economy, with more Americans going back to work, with our Nation an active force for good in the world — the state of our union is confident and strong. Our generation has been blessed — by the expansion of opportunity, by advances in medicine, and by the security purchased by our parents’ sacrifice. Now, as we see a little gray in the mirror — or a lot of gray — and we watch our children moving into adulthood, we ask the question: What will be the state of their union? Members of Congress, the choices we make together will answer that question. Over the next several months, on issue after issue, let us do what Americans have always done, and build a better world for our children and grandchildren. First, we must be good stewards of this economy, and renew the great institutions on which millions of our fellow citizens rely.”

Speech IV:
“My fellow Americans, the state of our union is strong, but now we must rise to the decisive moment, to make a nation and a world better than any we have ever known. The new promise of the global economy, the Information Age, unimagined new work, life-enhancing technology — all are ours to seize. That is our honor and our challenge. We must be shapers of events, not observers. For if we do not act, the moment will pass — and we will lose the best possibilities of our future.”


2 Comments on “The State of the Union Game: He Said What???”

  1. Brian Morgan February 13, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

    Speech number one; President Obama; Number two: President Reagan: Number three: President Clinton: Speech number four: President GW Bush;

  2. Eric Daniel February 14, 2013 at 2:47 am #

    #1 Obama, #2 Clinton, #3 Reagan, #4 Bush

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