As President Obama prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address Tuesday, he can only hope for better treatment than the last two-term president received. The White House back in 2008 was less than thrilled when President George W. Bush’s appearance before a joint session of Congress was overshadowed by another event scheduled by a rival politician more skilled at commanding the media spotlight. That troublemaker’s name was Barack Obama.
He was candidate Barack Obama then. And Jan. 28, 2008, was one of the most important days of his campaign. Less than six miles away from Capitol Hill, then-Sen. Obama was donning the mantle of the Kennedy family at what news reports described as a “Beatlesesque” event at American University. There, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, in what the AU News Service called “part rock concert, part rally, part coronation,” officially endorsed Obama over rival Sen. Hillary Clinton on live TV. Six hours later, President Bush took to the House rostrum. He had a bigger audience. But, The Washington Post concluded, he was “upstaged by the larger and louder speech of the day” given by Kennedy.
Eight years later, now-President Obama will see if he’s still able to keep that spotlight or whether it will be drawn away by the larger and louder candidates of the day who are fighting to win his job. For Obama’s upstaging of Bush was not the first time an incumbent president has been frustrated trying to make the country—and Congress—pay attention to his last State of the Union address. To the dismay of those incumbents, the reaction has often been a national shrug at a message tuned out as one they’ve heard before.