Over the past decade, I've produced an "Annotated Version" of most State of the Union speeches soon after they were delivered. The 2008 version and links to a number of others here. Because of Atlantic speech-related events this evening, I won't do one tonight but will in this space by tomorrow morning. Just for the record.
Obama's big speech this evening is like several other of his high-stakes appearances in apparently needing to be a home-run in order to reverse his fortunes. So it was with his post-Rev. Wright speech about race relations in March, 2008, when he was on the verge of being forced out of the campaign; similarly with his first debate appearance against John McCain in August 2008, when McCain's prospects seemed to be rising; and similarly last September with his address about health care to a Joint Session of Congress, when the summer-long "death panel" / "tea party" rhetoric had built great opposition to his plan. And so even it seemed to be in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the circumstances of which practically guaranteed a falling-short-of-expectations result. In each of those cases, his performance exceeded expectations, improved his prospects, and reversed negative momentum.
Tonight? We'll see. I will say that the main pre-speech leak, about the "spending freeze," is different from his previous high-stakes appearances and is not very encouraging. If he doesn't mean it -- if this is a gimmick to claim "discipline" when much of the budget will still grow -- it's out of character precisely in its gimmickry. (Remember the campaign-era Obama's contempt for the gas-tax-holiday gimmick eagerly embraced by McCain and Hillary Clinton.) If he does mean it, it's at odds with the whole post-Great Depression logic (not to mention post-Obama inauguration policy) about the danger of cutting back on public "stimulus" spending too early during an economic contraction. Another reason to watch tonight.