State of the Union Preview | Public Speaking

President Obama will give his annual State of the Union address tomorrow night.

Here are two predictions:

  1. Pundits will hate it and
  2. The public will love it.

This is a rather timid, safe prediction on my part, because those two predictions come true, basically, every year.


State of the union addresses are typically seen as long, rambling, put-together-by-committee speeches, which they are. They rarely have the poetry or inspiration of, say, inaugural addresses. So people like me and other pundits tend to give state of the union addresses low marks.

But the public, perhaps weary of only hearing a President’s priorities interpreted through the media, are usually quite happy to hear a President actually talk about substantive policy for a sustained period of time. Additionally, poll numbers also bump up for a President the week or two after a state of the union address. However, the poll bump is usually fleeting, as the numbers quickly revert to the mean.

The state of the union address is one of the great soft powers held by a president. In an age of infinite websites, entertainments and distractions, the state of the union is still one of the few opportunities anyone in the entire political system has to get the attention and focus of the majority of the voters in the country.

The big question, this year, and any year, is what issue will the President choose to put the spotlight on? So far, the primary leaked issue is tax reform, namely cutting taxes on the middle and lower classes and raising taxes on the wealthy. Which, of course, is an immediate non-starter with the new Republican controlled congress.

The bigger question is, will the President use his platform to put a spotlight on an issue that will mobilize the public behind him and force binding legislative change? It’s unlikely, but not impossible. I’ll be watching and dissecting the speech afterward right here.

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