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State of the Union addresses: What to Look For

adapted from a column by William Safire

Salutation: How did he greet the nation? "My Countrymen" was popular for a while, then deemed sexist. "Fellow Americans"? That works.

What is the defining adjective? The State of the Union is WHAT? Good (JFK)? Strong (popular)? Not good (Ford)? If it's unusual, anything not in this short list, it's news.

How does Congress react? How many times is he interrupted by applause? Who withheld applause, besides Hilary? How do moderates respond? Dems in general?

What is the over-arching theme? War on Terror? Finishing the job? Staying the course? (Watch how this theme legitimizes, for example, eavesdropping on U.S. citizens inside the United States.)

How does the President refer to "previous administrations"? (Less important since this is his second term.) How does he reference "colleagues across the aisle", Dems? Picking a fight? Setting up for a fall? Seeking unity?

What does he take credit for? Economy. Job growth. Democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan. What does he blame on others? Who does he put on warning (Iran, Palestine/Hamas, China, Korea)?

How (and on what) does he press Congress? (What are his priorities for this year?) How much domestic? International? What kind of balance does he strive for, if he does indeed strive for a balance? (Previous S.O.U.s have stressed international; expect this one to instead emphasize domestic, for example.)

Any surprises? Initiatives. Pledges. Tax cuts. (Expect very few. Last year, too much and couldn't deliver. Expect it to be more modest.)

Special guests? Who are they and what are they intended to represent or symbolize?

How does he invoke God's blessing? How does he galvanize his supporters?


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Last Updated: January 2006
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