Tonight's Shopping List

by Zoe Pollock

David Frum lays out the ground rules for planning a SOTU:

At the first meetings on the State of the Union in November, somebody maybe the president himself will usually say: "We don't want to do just another shopping list." After two, three, sometimes four months of hard work, what emerges is... a shopping list.

And you know what? It turns out that the viewers at home like shopping lists. President Clinton's States of the Union were almost universally condemned by journalists and communications professionals as sloppy monstrosities. Too long, too shapeless, just one damn thing after another. Yet after each, Clinton's numbers would surge. People liked the big formless blob speeches, despite their frightening length: 77 minutes in 1998, 79 minutes in 1999, 85 minutes in 1995, 89 minutes (the all-time record!) in 2000. The longer the speech, after all, the more likely you are to hear something that directly concerns you.