What is the State of the Union?

What is the State of the Union?

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

There has been enough material leaked about tonight’s speech that it almost feels like except for listening Marco Rubio and watching the overall atmospherics, there is no need to watch the State of the Union Address. The President set the mood three weeks ago in his inaugural address, has sent to Congress proposals on gun control and immigration reform, and has addressed global warming as well as troop reduction in Afghanistan.

State of the Union addresses have really become almost ritualistic. They are an outline and priority list which will be filled when the actual budget is delivered to Congress and specific draft bills are presented. There will be the gallery guests and the standing ovations plus the camera views of key Members in attendance. Tonight, however, analysts will watch for surprises. For the President the test will be whether and how he connects with the millions of viewers to help him carry forth his agenda. 

It will be much show. The State of the Union address is a grand tradition; an enactment of a constitutional mandate in a wonderful setting. The problem will be whether it will begin to show how the President–practically speaking–will lead the nation until May; for by then there will need to be either resolution or agreed upon strategies on the key issues of sequestration, budget reconciliation, tax reform, entitlement review, and the debt ceiling. The President needs to show the nation how we will reconcile these issues so that the country does not need to again go to the brink. 

The tone here is really critical. Will the President be ideological and doctrinaire or will suggest a willingness to compromise? He was on top of his game when he danced with the GOP on the debt ceiling extension. The President needs to do that again or believe that he can bully and push Congress with the outcry of the American people to follow his Party’s direction.

The anticipated event of the evening will be to ascertain how well the President affects the American people or whether they are more impressed and enamored by the younger, newer, and unknown senator from Florida. Marco Rubio undoubtedly will make a splash, especially when he delivers part of his speech in Spanish. Most Americans have never seen or heard him before and he will have the largest audience he has ever addressed. 

The President will need creativity, focus, and speed. He certainly has a vision of how all these issues can be joined and considered. His style is not to get into the debate until the last minute. Given the size of the economic and budgetary crises that are looming perhaps the time has come for him to move out front and to lay back. It will not come directly in the State of the Union address, but given the Rubio excitement, he needs to exude command, leadership, and confidence.

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