If tonight's State of the Union address is anything like the ones that President Obama delivered in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, or 2013, here's what to expect: a banal, risk-averse, scattershot speech that could be cancelled without any great consequence. Obama is a capable orator. It's easy to remember some of his best speeches. He rarely gets to address America in prime time with Congress assembled. I'd like to see him focus on one issue, or even one theme, and marshal logic to persuade Americans that some substantive step or other ought to be taken.
But that would be unconventional and risky. Everyone with a pet cause that wasn't mentioned due to the narrowed focus would be upset. That's why the speech is likely to be broad and shallow, addressing so many subjects that nothing deep or lasting can be said about any of them. It will be constructed in hopes of making Obama seem likable, reasonable, and worthy of popular support, as if exuding those qualities will make an appreciable difference in his approval rating. Real attempts to persuade will be eschewed, for they can fail. Better, for the risk averse, to frame issues as if disagreement itself is the problem, and all that's needed is for legislators to put aside their bickering for the greater good.