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January 23, 2007

Things You Can Do to Make the State of the Union More Interesting
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

State of the Union speeches occasion a certain amount of dread even when you like the incumbent President and things are going well.  When people I respect are covering this one with headlines like "How Lame Will Bush's State of the Union Be?", the urge to watch Maria Sharapova instead is close to overwhelming, and not just to please my spouse.   

I have no excuses -- I'm the one who agreed to do commentary on WHYY tomorrow morning AND thought it would be fun to invite friends over to watch tonight.  So let me share a few ideas to make this more interesting.  Hope to see you here later.

1.  Best Round-Up I've Found So Far:  As of 2pm I like this Bloomberg piece (via The Note) for quality and conciseness.  For informed snarkiness, go back to the piece by my fellow former White House speechwriter David Kusnets that I mentioned above.  As of 4 pm the White House policy paper is available here.

2.  Best explanation of a dubious policy initiative:  No winners yet -- I hope to update.  Keep checking for Jon Cohn's piece on the healthcare plan to appear on the New Republic website.  (As best I understand it:  Bush taxes generous healthcare plans to give other people tax deductions for healthcare.  I thought Republicans were about simplifying the tax code, never mind whether the folks most desperately in need of healthcare would itemize to get this deduction, or whether this is just a trojan horse aimed at health plans like the ones Federal workers and unionized workers enjoy.)

3.  Best depressing background to speech:  You've seen the newest domestic polling:  AP/AOLsays 2/3 of the country opposes the surge and thinks the country is on the wrong track overall; CBS has Bush's ratings at a Nixionian "all-time low" of 28 percent.  But have you seen this BBC/GlobeScan/PIPA poll showing world views of the US and its policies also continuing to collapse?  Across 25 countries, one person in two now says the US is playing a mainly negative role in the world.  They'll be watching tonight too, by the way. 

4.  Amusing things to do:  If you live in New York City and are a political-speech junkie, go hear storied Presidential speechwriters Ted Sorensen and Peggy Noonan talk about the speech at 7:15. 

5.  Amusing things to do ii:  If you, or your friends, or your civic group, or your non-profit, or your campaign, or whatever, wants a vehicle to think through what you think the President should say, particularly on world affairs, check out this worksheet at The Dream Speech Project (to which I serve as Senior Adviser).

6.  Amusing things to do iii:  enough with those State of the Union drinking games.  You know what I'm talking about.  This year I'm trying a State of the Union benefit:  every time the President says something that makes you crazy, put a dollar or five aside for a good cause.  That way, whatever happens with the speech, you're making something good happen for somebody somewhere.


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I stopped watching State of the Union speeches some time in the mid-nineties (sorry Heather!) with a brief revival of interest in 2002 and 2003. I can read the transcript of the speech online anytime I want tomorrow if the media executive summary versions aren't good enough. And there is always CSPAN for the insane among us who actually feel compelled to watch the whole thing.

The Consitution requires the President to "provide information" on the state of the union to the Congress from time to time, and for half our history this information was provided in the sensible form of a written report. How we ever got the idea that this information should be provided in the form of an oral statement, and even a "speech", I don't know. But apparently Woodrow Wilson was the first Windbag-in-Chief who insisted on this format. The notion then somehow got abroad that these mind-deadening business plan presentations are something that Americans have a civic responsibility to watch.

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