I have watched and covered many SOTU addresses. The night is always exciting (yes, I love it) but it really is merely political theatre providing the news media about 36 hours of material to discuss and digest.
The SOTU never changes much if anything – it is tradition and a gift to the media, something new for us to digest. We first talk about who brought what guest…and then, after the event, we pour over and dissect the content of the speech with all our theories (right or wrong) about what it might mean…and of course we can’t help ourselves, we hunt for the maybe comical (anyone caught on camera sleeping? or sneering? standing at the wrong time? etc.)
Tradition is fun — I even look to see if Rep Sheila Jackson Lee is dressed boldly (she was) and got there early to get her favorite aisle seat (she did.) I also try to guess which Member of the Cabinet will not there (one always is absent in case something catastrophic happens during the SOTU and the President and everyone else has been harmed.)
A SOTU, as far as I can remember never changes much. It does tip a President’s hand so that his political opponent has some vague idea of his plans for the year so that, if desired, the opposing party can prepare for it, usually attempt to block it….often successful if House and / or Senate are an opposing party.
The SOTU might also be a time to impress the nation and raise a President’s sagging numbers…but I think that short lived since even if he wows the nation for an hour, the next morning the President faces those thorny and unpleasant issues like no jobs.
The only two SOTU that stands out in my recent memory are President Clinton’s SOTU that he delivered during his Senate trial – he dazzled the Senate audience at night while during the day they were listening to argument about throwing him out. That was an amazing contrast! Clapping for him at night and scorning him during the day.
The other SOTU I remember was President Bush 43 in which he referred to the “axis of evil” – Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Each time I traveled to North Korea I was reminded by the North Koreans that they were part of the “axis of evil” and were extremely bitter about what they perceived an insult, not reality. They insisted to me that they were due an apology. To them, it was a matter of pride, not reality.
As we quickly wrap up SOTU 2014, and I admit I love the tradition, I also think about how much time and energy went into it. The President and his staff spent hours and hours on his speech…the staff at the Capitol spends hours and hours preparing….security is a huge project….and we, in the media, likewise spent hours and hours preparing and planning – even spending much time getting press credentials because of security at the US Capitol.
And now? poof! It is over.
(But I still love the tradition.)