'We Do Big Things': The Annotated State of the Union

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Over the years, I've often done day-after annotations of the State of the Union address, to go through the text the way a speechwriting crew might and examine why things were said the way they were, and weren't -- and what else might have been said. For instance, last year's is here.

Now, this year's installment. A few paragraphs of intro, and then the "as delivered" text from the White House, with marginal comments that should appear as you hover over each marked passage. At least in tech terms, this is an advance over what we've done in recent years! For that, thanks to Betsy Ebersole and her colleagues.

The setup:

Overall this was a good speech, in the peculiar way State of the Union addresses can be "good." Because of their length, they simply can't have either a concentrated or a sustained emotional tone or theme -- unlike, say, Obama's Tucson memorial speech. Because there's hardly any topic they can safely leave out, they also can't develop a coherent intellectual or policy argument -- in contrast, say, to Obama's 2009 speeches about nuclear weapons in Prague or America's relations with the Islamic world in Cairo. (I'm using Obama illustrations: you could make the same contrasts for any president.)

SOTU_bug.gif And why do they "have" to be so long and all-inclusive? A perfect illustration: At a high-end SOTU "viewing party" in New York last night, a mainly Obama-sympathizing crowd sat through the speech with good attentiveness, yet with no one wishing it were any longer. Then came the first critical comment, from a strong Obama supporter: "But he didn't say anything about XXXXX." Most of the unhappy reactions I've heard from Obama opponents today are variants of, "But he didn't say anything about putting me back to work." Extend such reactions through the entire federal government -- and indeed the world at large, as governments, citizens, and interest groups listen carefully to hear whether their cause makes its way into the speech [Southern Sudan? Yes! Egypt? No!] -- and you understand the despair with which any speechwriter approaches this event. I'm not exempt: in the "future of energy" passage I would have been miffed if he hadn't somehow mentioned the word "coal."

What a SOTU speech can do, then, is provide a showcase and a test for the president in the simplest horseflesh terms. It's not a matter of his rhetorical flourishes, or his arguments about policy, but himself (eventually herself) -- in his primal identity as leader of the tribe. How does he look? How does he sound? How does he carry himself? Does he seem burdened, or resilient? Above all, how does he look, sound, and carry himself  in circumstances like these, after he has suffered a major electoral reverse. Obama's test of personal bearing after the midterm rout was similar, of course, to Bill Clinton's in his 1995 address (with Newt Gingrich behind him for the first time as speaker), or Jimmy Carter's in 1980, just after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (opening words: "This last few months has not been an easy time for any of us"), or George W. Bush in 2002 ("axis of evil"), so soon after the 9/11 attacks.

By that standard, I thought Obama succeeded. He sounded and looked both confident and calm through most of the speech, and by the end replicated some of the feat he had accomplished in Tucson, of making sober news seem an occasion for hopefulness and celebration. He managed to sound more like Ronald Reagan than like, say, Jimmy Carter, about the electoral reverses he had endured -- a kind of "there you go again" amusement, as opposed to hurt or resentment.

There's another way in which SOTU speeches "work," and don't -- with the public, as opposed to the professional commentariat. Political and media pros tend to complain about the length, and the run-through of policy possibilities known in the DC as the "laundry list," that typify these speeches -- but post-speech polls often indicate that ordinary-citizen viewers actually like hearing all these details, and stay for the whole show even when the president runs long. They may not remember any of the proposals, or believe they'll happen -- but evidence suggests that people like to hear these things said.
 
If you actually tried to follow the logic of the heart of the speech -- the first 50 minutes that were on domestic policy -- you could see something like a logical progression. Roughly: The worst of the emergency is over -> now we need to think about rebuilding sources of jobs -> which brings us to sci + tech -> which brings us to education, and so on. He had to lay it out, even though it will probably have faint-at-best relationship to what happens these next two years. But, again, logic is never the test at these events. Tone is, and overall it worked.

A few more points before the blow-by-blow:

  • I had quickly read a leaked version of the speech, on a mobile phone, half an hour ahead of time and thought: It's going to be a long night! I was mildly surprised that it sounded better -- mainly more upbeat -- as actually delivered than it had seemed on that tiny screen.

  • The surprising charm of the "Date Night" seating plan. I had thought the plan to break up the seating blocs, to avoid the campy tableau of half the crowd standing and cheering and the other half sitting in glowering silence, would be pure gimmickry. But in practice it seemed more important than that. Seeing John McCain sit with apparent affability next to John Kerry, Kirsten Gillibrand with John Thune, Chuck Schumer with Tom Coburn, Republican and Democratic congressmen from North Carolina or Virginia sitting side by side -- these made for more appealing cutaway shots than the usual glimpses of hostile warring camps. I don't know if this will happen again, but it was worth it this time.

  • The surprising charm of John Boehner in the Speaker's chair. I know that some people felt he was glowering behind Obama -- and certainly by the end you could see him thinking, When can I have a smoke? (Maybe Obama was thinking that too? I digress.) But I thought he was a relatively genial presence -- certainly as compared with Newt Gingrich, who played that role behind Clinton in 1995 -- and clapped along with Biden more often than not. It was also charming how Obama orchestrated a few "let's make John Boehner cry" moments, and Boehner went along.

  • The speech contained one unbelievably horrible "what were they thinking" line, and at least one successful off-hand joke.

  • The penultimate lines of the speech had an interesting touch.

  • I am not saying anything about the response by Rep. Paul Ryan because I didn't see it in real time. I am not saying anything about the response by Rep. Michele Bachmann because I'm waiting for Saturday Night Live.

Now, let's go to the charts. 

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

January 25, 2011

Remarks by the President in State of Union Address

United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.

        9:12 P.M. EST

                  THE PRESIDENT:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

                  Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner[a].  (Applause[b].)  And as we mark this occasion, we’re also mindful of the empty chair[c] in this chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague -- and our friend -– Gabby Giffords.  (Applause.)

                  It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years.  The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs.  And that’s a good thing.[d]  That’s what a robust democracy demands.  That’s what helps set us apart as a nation[e].

                  But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater[f] -– something more consequential than party or political preference.

                  We are part of the American family.  We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

                  That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.  (Applause[g].)

                  Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation.  What comes of this moment is up to us[h].  What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow[i].  (Applause.)

                  I believe we can.  And I believe we must[j].  That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us.  With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties.  New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans.[k]  We will move forward together, or not at all -– for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.

                  At stake right now is not who wins the next election -– after all, we just had an election.  At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country[l], or somewhere else.  It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded.  It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but the light to the world.

                  We are poised for progress.  Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back.  Corporate profits are up.  The economy is growing again.

                  But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone[m].  We measure progress by the success of our people.  By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer.  By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise.  By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.

                  That’s the project the American people want us to work on. Together.  (Applause[n].)

                  We did that in December.  Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today.  Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year.  And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.

                  But we have to do more.  These steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession, but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making[o].

                  Many people watching tonight can probably remember[p] a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown.  You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors.  If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion.  Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.

                  That world has changed.  And for many, the change has been painful.  I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets.[q] I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear -– proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.

                  They’re right.  The rules have changed.  In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business.  Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100.  Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection.

                  Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science.  They’re investing in research and new technologies.  Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar[r] research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

                  So, yes, the world has changed.  The competition for jobs is real.  But this shouldn’t discourage us.  It should challenge us. Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world.  (Applause[s].)  No workers -- no workers are more productive[t] than ours.  No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs.  We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth[u].

                  What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny.  That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here.  It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea?[v]  What would you change about the world?  What do you want to be when you grow up?”

                  The future is ours to win.  But to get there, we can’t just stand still.  As Robert Kennedy told us[w], “The future is not a gift.  It is an achievement.”  Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat.  It has required each generation to sacrifice[x], and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

                  And now it’s our turn.  We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time.  We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.  (Applause.)  We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.  We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government.  That’s how our people will prosper.  That’s how we’ll win the future.  (Applause.)  And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.[y]

                                              

                  The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.  None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from.  Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution.  What we can do -- what America does better than anyone else -- is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.  We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook[z].  In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It is how we make our living.  (Applause.)

                  Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation.  But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need[aa].  That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet.  That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.  Just think of all the good jobs -- from manufacturing to retail -- that have come from these breakthroughs.

                  Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon.  The science wasn’t even there yet[ab].  NASA didn’t exist.  But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

                  This is our generation’s Sputnik moment[ac].  Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.  And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people[ad].

                  Already, we’re seeing the promise of renewable energy.  Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company.  After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon.  But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard.  Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country.  In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves.”

                  That’s what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves[ae].  And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money.  We’re issuing a challenge.  We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

                  At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.  At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities.  With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles[af] on the road by 2015.  (Applause.)

                  We need to get behind this innovation.  And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.  (Applause[ag].)  I don’t know if -- I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own.  (Laughter.)  So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

                  Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.  So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal:  By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.  (Applause[ah].)

                  Some folks want wind and solar.  Others want nuclear, clean coal[ai] and natural gas.  To meet this goal, we will need them all -- and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.  (Applause.)

                  Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.  But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids[aj].

                  Think about it.  Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.  And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school[ak].  The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.  And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

                  That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities.  It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.  Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.  We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.  (Applause[al].)  We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

                  Our schools share this responsibility.  When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance.  But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top.  To all 50 states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”

                  Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.  For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.  And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country.  And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.  (Applause[am].)

                  You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.  Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver.  Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado -- located on turf between two rival gangs.  But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma.  Most will be the first in their families to go to college.  And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, “Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it.”  (Applause[an].)  That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

                  Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom.  In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.”  Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.  (Applause.)  We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.  (Applause.)  And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.  (Applause.)

                  In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice:  If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child -- become a teacher.  Your country needs you[ao].  (Applause.)

                  Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma.  To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students.  (Applause.)  And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college.  It’s the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

                  Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges.  Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina.  Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town.  One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor[ap], had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old.  And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too.  As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.”

                  If we take these steps -– if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take –- we will reach the goal that I set two years ago:  By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  (Applause.)

                  One last point about education.  Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens.  Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.  Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.  But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us.  It makes no sense.[aq]

                  Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration.  And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.  (Applause.)  I know that debate will be difficult.  I know it will take time.  But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort.  And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation. [ar] (Applause.)

                  The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America.  To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information -- from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet.  (Applause.)

                  Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped.  South Korean homes now have greater Internet[as] access than we do.  Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do.  China is building faster trains and newer airports.  Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”

                  We have to do better.  America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System.  The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement.  They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.

                  So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry.  And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts.  (Applause.)

                  We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.  We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

                  Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.  (Applause.)  This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car.  For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down[at].  (Laughter and applause.)  As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

                  Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans.  This isn’t just about -- (applause) -- this isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls.  It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.  It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama[au] where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world.  It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.

                  All these investments -– in innovation, education, and infrastructure –- will make America a better place to do business and create jobs.  But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.

                  For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries.  Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all.  But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world.  It makes no sense, and it has to change.  (Applause[av].)

                  So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system.  Get rid of the loopholes.  Level the playing field.  And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit.  It can be done.  (Applause.)

                  To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports[aw] by 2014 -– because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.  Already, our exports are up.  Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the United States.  And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs.  This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans -- and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.  (Applause.)

                  Now, before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs.  That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks.  (Applause.)

                  To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations.  When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.  (Applause.)  But I will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people.  (Applause.)  That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century.  It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe.[ax]  It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws.  It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies and new rules to prevent another financial crisis.  (Applause.)  And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients.  (Applause.)

                  Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law.  (Laughter.)  So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved[ay].  If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you.  We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.  (Applause[az].)

                  What I’m not willing to do -- what I’m not willing to do[ba] is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition.  (Applause.)

                  I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered.  I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business man from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees.  As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their patients’ -- parents’ coverage.  (Applause.)

                  So I say to this chamber tonight, instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward[bb].  (Applause.)

                  Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt[bc].

                  We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago.  And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets.

                  But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in.  That is not sustainable.  Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means.  They deserve a government that does the same.

                  So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.  (Applause.)  Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

                  This freeze will require painful cuts.  Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years.  I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs.  The Secretary of Defense has also agreed[bd] to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.  (Applause.)

                  I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without.  But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.  (Applause.)  And let’s make sure that what we’re cutting is really excess weight.  Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.  It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.[be]  (Laughter[bf].)

                  Now, most of the cuts and savings I’ve proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12 percent of our budget.  To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough.  It won’t.  (Applause.)

                  The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear.  I don’t agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress.  And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it –- in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.  (Applause.)

                  This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit.  The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit.  Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year -- medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.  (Applause.)

                  To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.  (Applause.)  We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.  (Applause.)

                  And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  (Applause[bg].)  Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.  It’s not a matter of punishing their success.  It’s about promoting America’s success.  (Applause.)

                  In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code.  (Applause.)  This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed an interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.  (Applause.)

                  So now is the time to act.  Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress –- Democrats and Republicans -– to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done.  If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.

                  Let me take this one step further.  We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable.  We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient.  We can’t win the future with a government of the past.  (Applause[bh].)

                  We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV.  There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports.  There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy.  Then there’s my favorite example:  The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater.  (Laughter.)  I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.  (Laughter and applause[bi].)

                  Now, we’ve made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste.  Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse.  We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we’ll cut through red tape to get rid of more.  But we need to think bigger.  In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America[bj].  I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote –- and we will push to get it passed.  (Applause.)

                  In the coming year, we’ll also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government.  Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you’ll be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history.  Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done -- put that information online[bk].  And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this:  If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.  I will veto it.[bl]  (Applause.)

                  The 21st century government that’s open and competent.  A government that lives within its means.  An economy that’s driven by new skills and new ideas.  Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation.  It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.[bm]

                  Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges.  No single wall separates East and West.  No one rival superpower is aligned against us.

                  And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion.  And America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity.  And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

                  Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high.  (Applause[bn].)  American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed.  This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq.  America’s commitment has been kept.  The Iraq war is coming to an end.  (Applause.)

                  Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us.  Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we’re disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies.  And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.  (Applause[bo].)    

                  We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad.  In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces.  Our purpose is clear:  By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

                  Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency.  There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance.  But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them.  This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead.  And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.  (Applause[bp].)

                  In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001.  Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield.  Their safe havens are shrinking.  And we’ve sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe:  We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you[bq].  (Applause.)

                  American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war.  Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed.  Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.  (Applause.)

                  Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran[br] meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.  And on the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.  (Applause.)

                  This is just a part of how we’re shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity.  With our European allies, we revitalized NATO and increased our cooperation on everything from counterterrorism to missile defense.  We’ve reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, built new partnerships with nations like India.

                  This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances across the Americas.  Around the globe, we’re standing with those who take responsibility -– helping farmers grow more food, supporting doctors who care for the sick, and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

                  Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power -– it must also be the purpose behind it.  In south Sudan -– with our assistance -– the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war.  (Applause.)  Thousands lined up before dawn.  People danced in the streets.  One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him:  “This was a battlefield for most of my life,” he said.  “Now we want to be free.”  (Applause.)

                  And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator.  And tonight, let us be clear:  The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia[bs], and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.  (Applause.)

                  We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere.  And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.  (Applause[bt].)

                  Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families.  Let us serve them as well as they’ve served us -- by giving them the equipment they need, by providing them with the care and benefits that they have earned, and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

                  Our troops come from every corner of this country -– they’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American.  They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim.  And, yes, we know that some of them are gay.  Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.[bu]  (Applause.)  And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC[bv].  It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past.  It is time to move forward as one nation.  (Applause.)

                  We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit –- none of this will be easy.  All of it will take time.  And it will be harder because we will argue about everything.  The costs.  The details.  The letter of every law.

                  Of course, some countries don’t have this problem.  If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed.  If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.[bw]

                  And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places[bx] with any other nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

                  We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution.  We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try.  We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible.  No matter who you are.  No matter where you come from.

                  That dream is why I can stand[by] here before you tonight.  That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton[bz] can sit behind me.  (Laughter and applause.)  That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

                  That dream -– that American Dream -– is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era.  It’s what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future.  And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher[ca].

                  Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology.  And one day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.

                  But Brandon thought his company could help.  And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B.  His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment.  And Brandon left for Chile.

                  Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000-foot hole into the ground, working three- or four-hour -- three or four days at a time without any sleep.  Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued.  (Applause.)  But because he didn’t want all of the attention, Brandon wasn’t there when the miners emerged.  He’d already gone back home, back to work on his next project.

                  And later, one of his employees said of the rescue, “We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.”  (Applause.)

                  We do big things[cb].

                  From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.  That’s how we win the future.

                  We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.”  “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.”  “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.”  “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there.  I know we will.”

                  We do big things[cc].  (Applause.)

                  The idea of America endures.  Our destiny remains our choice.  And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.[cd]

                  Thank you.  God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause[ce].)

 

[a]George W. Bush led off his 2007 address with a remarkably gracious call-out to the woman sitting behind him: “And tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own -- as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker.” The “high privilege and distinct honor” is of course an echo of the boilerplate with which the Speaker introduces the President each year.

[b] And the first mist in Boehner’s eyes! It was a nice moment, which Obama seemed to have foreseen and to enjoy.

[c]A plain but vivid way to make the point.

[d]The pivot, to which he returns very effectively at the end of the speech. It’s good that we disagree so much! As a matter of fact, these mid-term results were all part of the larger plan! We did our business these first two years, now we argue about it for a while...

[e]For later discussion -- I mean, later in this speech and also later in real time -- the pluses and minuses of the “American exceptionalism” argument he feints at here. I am a big “exceptionalist” myself, and I think that Obama gave one of the best concise definitions of it ever, here. On re-reading it’s striking what a strong theme it is through this speech.

[f]Little bit of an interesting twist here. We have been accustomed these past few weeks to have sentences that start “Tucson reminded us...” end with some thought about civil discourse etc. He uses it to introduce a variant on the “we can do better” theme from his original Tucson speech.

[g]Whether or not you have the “date night” seating plan, one of the craft-points of SOTU addresses is building toward big applause lines that the “other side” really has to stand up and cheer for. I won’t mark them all, since there are so many, but it is a particular skill, which Obama and his team showed great command of in this speech.

[h] One of the actual “ideas” of the speech, returned to with the RFK quote near the end. The future is unknown, outcomes both good and bad are possible, nothing is set by fate, etc.

[i]See “making them stand up and cheer,” above. Boehner set the tone on this by joining Biden in applause early -- could have been a very different signal if he didn’t, and the other Rs in the chamber didn’t too.

[j] Sometimes you have to write a pair of sentences like this. But this is speechwriting on autopilot.

[k]As delivered, the line had a calm, “this might not be such a bad approach after all” tone.

[l]Policy corollary of the “actual idea” mentioned above. New jobs are going to spring up somewhere. It’s up to us to see that more of them are here rather than somewhere else.

[m] This sentence very important as qualifier to preceding paragraph. Last word of sentence very important as qualifier to preceding part of sentence. In the graf above, a reminder: financial abyss is farther away. (And, for those of you with 401ks....) Then this sentence says: we care about other things, too.

[n]Boehner apparently enthusiastic in cheering. Newt Gingrich, at comparable moments, more radiating disdain.

[o]Ah, you can see a transition/set-up phrase coming a mile away! These words introduce the “age that has gone by” section he’s about to begin.

[p]Fact question for another time: How many people watching can actually “remember” this kind of economy? We have been talking about the end of this model for at least a generation. Probably good for him to mention it, though, both in setting up “Hey it’s different now!” presentation and to sound empathetic.

[q]Just one man’s opinion, but: this sort of “I’ve seen it in the faces” riff always sounds phony to me, no matter who is saying it. It seems hard for anyone to resist, though.

[r]Artful to use these comparisons. It’s not just about low wage operations, feeding his argument that these are the areas where the US should excel.

[s]This got a big cheer. And arguably it is “news,” considering all the reports showing that people (insanely) believe that China’s economy is the world’s biggest. Grad student research project: when did Americans start cheering the assurance that we are (still) Number One?

[t]This is something every president has to say, and there are measures by which it’s true. (Compared with China, the U.S. has much more output with many fewer workers, QED.) But it’s a lot more complicated vs Germany, Japan, etc. Never mind! If it’s true enough in some sense to get through the fact checkers, it will be in the speech.

[u]Can’t make this point often enough -- especially the importance of maintaining this lead.

[v]Take that, Shanghai cram schools! Take that, Tiger Mom!

[w]Return of the “idea.”

[x] On re-reading, the speech is nice in introducing a number of notes that might be puffed up into full “themes” in other circumstances but that suffice on mere allusion here. For instance, the “each generation must meet its challenge” note, beloved of presidential rhetoric (and of course actually important), is lightly addressed here.

[y]Code for: OK, here comes the big list of projects! Settle back for some “policy.” Will mark more lightly this next part.

[z]Facebook as expression of the soul of America? Sigh, maybe it’s true. Interesting: no Intel, Microsoft, Apple. Yesterday’s news!

[aa]Too bad this wasn’t set up as a cheer line. Would have been interesting to see if Rs would embrace or reject the (historically true) reminder of government/military research as the force behind Internet, GPS, etc.

[ab]Weellllllllllll.....  If you define “science” as meaning “working out the engineering to get such a huge project put together,” then maybe this is true, sort of. His heart’s in the right place, though.

 

Related point: a friend in the physics (ie, “real” science) world reminds me that the cliche “it’s not rocket science” should be changed. It really should be “it’s not rocket engineering.” The science of moon shots etc was not that remarkable. The engineering was the real achievement.

[ac] Nice try, but: The launch of Sputnik was indeed an actual “moment.” And the moment now is.... what? The (probably temporary) Chinese lead in supercomputers? The Xth straight month of unemployment above 9%? The school-test results? We’ve got some serious trends underway, rather than a “moment.” Moments are easier to deal with. (Cf: Pearl Harbor.)

[ad]IMO, this is the way to sell these projects. Whether that will have any influence during the budget debates of the next two years....

[ae]You know, you could write a book on this theme.

[af]If the US can actually do this, and not China, that will be an impressive achievement. Ie, I will be surprised.

[ag]First notable “Boehner is NOT clapping!” moment. This would have been an occasion for a panorama of the half-cheering, half silent Congress in days gone by.

[ah]Boehner clapping too, for the record.

[ai]As mentioned earlier, on the “why are these speeches so long?” front.

[aj]Cookbook Transition Sentence #46.

[ak]This is not the most logically coherent pair of sentences in the speech. Just as a craft point.

[al]Huge, huge, huge ovation for this. Query: would Obama have put it just this way if his own Da Bears were headed to the Super Bowl? Anyhow, a worthy topic, but the intensity of the cheer is interesting. That many science-fair fans? Roethlisberger critics?

[am]I haven’t followed this closely but was surprised to see Boehner and the R’s cheering an anti-NCLB line.

[an]Camera swings to recently re-elected Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO (and Atlantic editor brother), former head of Denver schools, who is giving a lusty cheer.

[ao]It is a nice idea, which gets an all-sides cheer.

[ap]She is on the screen, looking as citizen-case studies do in these circumstances, both proud and nervous. Not 100% clear she was expecting Obama to tell the world, seconds later,  how old she is.

[aq]Artful combo of two politically different cases here: making the case for DREAM-act type recognition for children of immigrants (support from the left), and opposing the nuttiness of training Chinese, Indian, etc scientists and technologists but not letting them stay (support from many businesses).

[ar] A point so nice, he might as well make it twice! (See preceding graf.)

[as]This sentence would be more accurate if it read “have way, way, way better Internet access than we do, and our mobile phone network is by international standards a joke.”

[at]Indeed, first genuine laugh line in the speech.

[au]Might as well spell out how a blue-state Administration can do something for red states too.

[av]Another “let’s dare the Republicans not to cheer for this” line.

[aw]This is why we have two different terms, “goal” and “realistic expectation.”

[ax]I am thinking that this sentence was meant for a target audience of two people, my wife and me, as recent residents of China. There is nothing like the contrast with today’s fast growing China -- where the food has not been safe to eat, the water safe to drink, or the air safe to breathe -- to remind you why these basic regulatory steps matter.

[ay]Making the best of the situation, mainly through the calmness of his tone.

[az]This too gets a disproportionately huge cheer. Maybe the pent-up sentiment of the big R majority in the House, which did after all just vote overwhelmingly to repeal the health-care law and realizes this is the closest thing to a pure cheering opportunity they’re going to have?

[ba]Had to define the fight somewhere, and this is the terrain he’d most like to defend.

[bb]Image that helps Obama: the American public is the set of parents in the front of the car, on the long drive to the beach. The two political parties are the brothers in the back set of the car, sneaking punches at each other and saying “He did it first” “No, he hit me!” The parents don’t care who hit whom first, they want it to STOP. Obama wins if he positions himself as a parent in the front seat, and not a squabbling child in the back.

[bc]Everyone else is talking about the debt issue, so I will maintain statesmanlike silence through much of this whole section.

[bd]That’s nice of him!

[be]We see the idea here, but this is an UNBELIEVABLY TERRIBLE way to make the point. “Feel the impact??” If there could be an opposite of the ‘mot juste’ to end that sentence, it would be “impact.” (Mot horrible?) Why not just say, “This would be like trying to lose weight by gouging out your heart. You could feel giddy at first, but it won’t be long before your energy spurts away.”  Or you could save the airplane image by saying, “But it won’t be long before you know there’s a problem.” Something other than impact -- or “smoldering mass of metal in a crater.”.

[bf]More accurate description: “Nervous laughter.” Or, “gasps and laughter.”

[bg]No cheers from Boehner on this one! Another of the very few moments where, even with Date Night arrangements, you could see the divided reaction.

[bh]Who can avoid clapping for this?

[bi]This was so much out of nowhere that the laughter seemed to build as people reflected on the surreal aspect of Obama’s having inserted this joke.

[bj]Some “burying the lede” potential here, as we say in the journalism biz. If he really is proposing some sweeping re-ordering of government efforts, comparable to those that created the Department of Health Education and Welfare under Eisenhower (now HHS) or Department of Defense (nee War) under Truman, that’s not something we’ve heard a lot about as one of his goals. And you have to ask: with what spare time, on the President’s behalf? And with what extra cushion of Congressional support?  (I am excluding a mishmash-style “reorgnization” like the misbegotten effort to create the Department of Homeland Security -- topic for another day.)

[bk]The cliche that best describes the Congressional reaction to this one, R and D alike: You could hear a pin drop.

[bl]Well, good luck! This sentences goes into the “bold declaration least likely actually to occur” category.

[bm]Around the room, you can see the nervous calculation: this speech has been going on for nearly an hour, and now he’s going to talk about the rest of the world?? The speechwriters were apparently tired too, since they have used the barest-bones, “Turning now to international affairs”-style transition. But they’re going to make brisk work of it from here on out.

[bn]Here and a few seconds later at the end of the paragraph, a sustained, hearty, apparently heartfelt standing ovation from all in the hall. The first line positioned it as applause for US troops, rather than necessarily for Obama Administration policy, and that seemed to carry through to the end.

[bo]To my astonishment, neither John Boehner nor many of the Republicans appeared to join in the cheering here. Surprising that they would let themselves be positioned this way -- and wouldn’t, just for form’s sake, join the cheering for a while.

[bp]This is one time where it would have been handy to get a look at differential D/R cheering for this commitment.

[bq]Obligatory; important; but neither his heart nor the audience’s attention seemed to be there. It’s getting late, and everyone was ticking off the bases he absolutely had to touch before getting off the stage.

[br]Speaking of bases he had to touch....

[bs]As with Sudan, important to say. Would have loved to have heard the last-minute deliberations about mentioning Egypt or not.

[bt]Building on the preceding Iraq moment, this was another occasion for sustained, standing cheers by all assembled.

[bu]This was one of two lines, along with the terrible “feel the impact” phrase earlier, that Obama mis-delivered, in a timing sense. This line depends on stress on the two “they love” phrases -- setting up the parallel and contrast between “the country they love” and “who they love.”  Maybe it could have been written to make the spoken rhythm more natural: “No Americans [not American, to work with ‘they’] will be forbidden to serve the country they love, because of the people they love.” Or something. The point is, the rare line Obama did not read well.

 

Anyone watching on TV saw the entirely unintended and unfair comedy of switching instantly to a shot of two male members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sitting awkwardly side by side.

[bv]This is not a point I expected him to mention -- it affects only a few schools -- but am glad he found time to make.

[bw]What a great paragraph! “Some countries” indeed! Hey, there, Mr. Hu Jintao, with all your high-speed railroads and all your gala welcome to the capital. How do you like this!

[bx]Another, perfect illustration of the “I dare you not to stand up and cheer” line.

[by]My heart started to sink as I heard this. Even Obama’s most loyal supporters are forgiven for thinking they have heard quite enough now, thank you, about how his personal story illustrates America’s uniquely open potential. But....

[bz]….soon enough, it’s redeemed! And in a bipartisan way! And in a charming fashion that has Joe Biden, learning from his Onion/SNL incarnations, giving a big “He’s talking about me!” grin -- and Boehner tearing up at the next line.

[ca]This is way, way late in a speech to be introducing another Specimen American; but it’s a great story, we’re getting near the end, and the president tells it pretty concisely.

[cb]What Obama should hope is the line remembered from the speech. And from his Administration.

[cc]In case you missed it the first time.

[cd]Quite a remarkable penultimate paragraph! By federal law -- no, OK, just by custom -- Presidents must work in the line “The State of the Union is [some variant on ‘strong’]” as an important part of the speech. But it’s often right up at the top of the speech, or as the end of the introduction -- as a transition to the policy chat.

 

To have the whole speech serve as, in effect, the logical basis for concluding that the State of the Union is strong today -- that’s unusual, and supports the observation that there’s a stronger logical core to this speech than most.

 

Which leads us to...

[ce]...But not from me! Sigh sigh sigh. But maybe Obama really is having it both ways with this speech. This obligatory, boilerplate ending, mandatory since the time of Ronald Reagan; and a “real,” written end to the speech, in the preceding paragraph. I will always think of this as the State of the Union speech that dared to “end” -- or ended to my ears -- with the words “the state of our union is strong.”

 

God bless us every one.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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