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The State Of The Union Is...?
Too often in the world of politics and political coverage, we hear more sound bites than substance, more rote rhetoric than reflection, more horse-race analysis than nuanced discussion of the myriad societal issues with which we must wrestle. And that is especially the case when it comes to dissecting and debating State of the Union addresses, one of which President Biden will give tomorrow (Tuesday) evening.
For all the talk leading up to and after States of the Union, most have little staying power or effect. The dynamic is usually the same no matter who is in office. Those who support that president’s political party tend to like what they hear; those in the opposition party tend to hate it. Which is to be expected. It is, after all, a political speech. The one point where there is often bipartisan agreement is that most States of the Union are too long.
But the speeches do serve some important purposes. They are an occasion for the president to speak at length and to a relatively large audience. Thus it is a unique chance to share an administration’s vision with the country. And this is a matter not only of substance but of style. What is the tone of the speech, especially if an opposition party holds one or both houses of Congress? That is the case now, which is different from the last time Biden delivered a State of the Union. He will have Kevin McCarthy sitting behind him instead of Nancy Pelosi.
Polls indicate a public somewhere between uncertain and skeptical about Biden. Despite all the bills passed in the last Congress, there seems to be a general sense among a majority of Americans that he hasn’t been a very effective president. Can Biden change that dynamic? Is this speech in essence a kick-off to a reelection campaign?
While these speeches are ostensibly about the state of the union, it is perhaps more helpful to consider them as checkups on the state of Washington (as in D.C. and not the actual state of Washington). The audience who hears the speech in person — members of Congress — will be the ones who decide what, if anything, the president says becomes a law. So it is always interesting to hear how presidents address those in the room. Are they combative or compromising, strident or subdued, direct or distracted?
As for the coverage around the speech, consider it like Christmas morning for the Washington press corps — there’s a lot of excitement, attention, and reason to talk. Prior to the speech itself, there’s also more speculation than on a Wall Street trading floor. One thing to look for is whether the views of the speech from the country at large mimic or diverge from the press consensus. Often the pundits’ verdict on the merit of a speech is at odds with the polling immediately after it.
With this context in mind, we thought we would do something a little different today. Rather than hear what the professionals expect of the speech, we wanted to open the (digital) floor to all of you. We want to know what you think President Biden might say tomorrow and how he will say it. We’re providing a few question prompts to help the discussion along, but feel free to share other thoughts, as well.
First and foremost, will you be watching? Do you always watch?
What do you want Biden to say? What might you want him not to say?
What do you hope his tone will be?
What should he say to the Republicans, who now have a majority (albeit a very slim one) in the House of Representatives?
If you were giving the speech, how would you describe the state of the union today?
We’re eager to read your thoughts, and we hope you engage with each other. Please be respectful and considerate.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. What you, the Steady readers, have helped create here means so much to us at the newsletter. When we started this, we hoped for an online community that eschewed the worst characteristics of cyberspace in favor of something better, more tempered, and more lasting. Your participation, the reasoned opinions and heartfelt personal stories you share, and the support you give to each other fill me with pride.
This has become, thanks to you, a place for civil discourse, thought-provoking ideas, and a whole lot of humanity and empathy.
So please share your thoughts and share this with others who might want to join a community like Steady. When it comes to these efforts, we believe in the maxim “the more, the merrier.”
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