Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Importance (Or Lack Thereof) of State of the Union Addresses

President Barack Obama gave a solid speech last night, carefully explaining his policies and proposing new plans for helping the middle class.

The trouble is that nobody will remember it in a month.

Presidential speeches come in two types: those few that are enduring, and those many that do little more than fill a news cycle. The enduring ones have several things in common: they are generally made in a time of crisis, and they outline themes that constitute a hallmark of the presidency. For instance, in March 1947 President Harry Truman summarized the strategy of containment against the Soviet Union, which would guide U.S. policy for decades to come.

State of the Union addresses almost never fit either condition. One exception was in 2002, when President George W. Bush coined the term “Axis of Evil” – which for better or worse came to symbolize his administration’s policies. But other than that lone exception, not a single address (out of the hundreds given) has made any impression upon history.

Mr. Obama’s speech was not particularly memorable, either. It was not meant to be. The speech focused primarily on domestic issues like jobs and education; stuff like this a great speech does not make. There are probably at least five speeches the president has made which overshadow this one (funny how most of them were written by Obama himself). Indeed, I doubt that half the people at my college even knew that there was the State of the Union address yesterday.

Like last year’s address, this year’s will probably be quickly overshadowed by other news. Its likely that even the most politically passionate can’t recall a word of the 2009 quasi-State of the Union. And as for the 2008 address – most people probably don’t even remember Mr. Bush making it.