President Obama will deliver the State of the Union tonight. As a former presidential speech writer, Jim Fallows of The Atlantic discusses what we can expect.
On what the president might talk about:
I think there’s two intertwined themes he’s going to be trying to pull together in this speech…the most difficult one involves terrorism. He’s going to say ‘I know everyone is really alarmed about terrorism. We had this horrible episode in San Bernardino, but actually if we keep this in perspective it’s not as fearful as we think.’ That’s a dicey thing. The other one he’s going to try to do, I think, is he’s going to say ‘Of course we recognize all the ways in which the economy has not improved, the people who are still feeling strained, the median income under pressure, etc. but let’s look at what the last seven plus years have meant,’ and I imagine he’s going to take some time on that theme.
On what this speech says about us:
In the now decades in which I’ve been watching these since I worked on them for Jimmy Carter long ago, it’s become more a celebration of presidential pomp and power. I think if you looked in Roman Imperial terms, it looks more imposing that way, even as presidents have become hamstrung. I think if you wanted to have a touching Gary Cooper-ish view of American life, you could say that at least once a year, the public sort of pays attention to what its elected president is going to say even if people disagree with him…starting with Bill Clinton’s term, ratings seem to show that the more detail a president went into, the larger the audience grew.
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