During his presidency, Barack Obama took on health-care reform, helped make gay marriage legal, reopened the diplomatic relationship with Cuba, made a nuclear-arms deal with Iran, rode herd on negotiations on global-climate change, and introduced gun-control measures.
But can he improve the State of the Union speech?
It seems like he’s going to try. As it stands, the State of the Union is a stodgy, outdated, annually disappointing rhetorical ritual delivered like a rote checklist of presidential goals. This year, though, “it’s not going to be a laundry list of things on the agenda” predicted Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing writer at The Atlantic.
The president himself indicated the address would be different. It’s “not just what I want to get done in the year ahead,” Obama said in a White House video, “but what we all need to do together in the years to come, the big things that will guarantee an even stronger, better, more prosperous America for our kids—the America we believe in.”
That skeptical slow clap you're hearing is coming from my people: America’s professional speechwriters, communication professors, and public-relations practitioners. We allowed ourselves to hope, beginning at Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, that Obama was a political figure who could raise the standard for political communication and show the public how thoughtful, how articulate, how effective—how communicative—political rhetoric could be.