Tonight: The State of the Union

On today’s schedule are two annual events that captivate the American populace. One is Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” in English, which marks the last day before lent and a cacophony of Zydeco music, parade floats, and parental disappointment as daughters from all over the world collect bead necklaces. The other is the State of the Union address, President Biden’s first, and it is expected to have comments on the economy, Covid, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and a healthy dose of the usual political theater.

But what, really, is the state of our Union? Let’s talk about it.

This Isn’t a Political Post

It really isn’t. I have voted in four presidential elections and I have yet to vote for a Democrat or a Republican. I don’t like either party, I don’t particularly like any politician, and I have a great mistrust of any institution that is so dichotomous. It’s like the Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Generals. Technically that’s a “rivalry,” but really it’s a theater piece. Now, technically Republicans and Democrats don’t have the same sort of relationship as the Globetrotters and Generals, but ultimately the parties exist to pander to voters and the individuals exist to keep the power they have cultivated. There, that’s the last truly political thing I’ll say.

What to Expect Tonight

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We can expect a lot of political theater, just like every recent president. George Washington and John Adams both delivered the constitutionally-mandated State of the Union address (Article II, Section 3) in person, but Thomas Jefferson stopped the practice and the State of the Union was a written address to congress from 1801 until Woodrow Wilson reestablished in-person addresses in 1913. Over the ensuing decades, the State of the Union became more and more about presenting a message to the people rather than just to congress.

This meant that there was a bit more drama. Presidents began inviting guests that they would then point out during their speeches as a demonstration of whatever political point they were making. If the point being made was about affordable housing, the president might invite a sympathetic single mother of five who works three separate jobs just to live in an undersized apartment. If it was about the military, they might invite an amputee soldier. If it is about education, they’ll have an impressive PhD candidate who bootstrapped themselves from poverty, etc. You get the idea. And it seems to be effective.

You’ll also see political theater from the congressmen and congresswomen in attendance. You might see certain caucuses dressed alike to make a point, you might see stone-faced members of the opposing party making a big show out of not clapping, you might see the representatives from Louisiana wearing Mardi Gras colors, and you might even see a particularly disgruntled congressman yell “You lie” at some point. But whatever happens, you’re sure to see some theatrics from the president and the audience.

Actual Content

Of course, we’re going to hear a lot of actual content, too. The State of the Union is one of the few times when the president really speaks directly to the American people in a longform way. Everyone knows this. The president knows it, the speechwriters know it, the congressmen know it, the populace knows it, and even folks in foreign countries who just take an exceptional interest in American goings-on know it. There is a lot of pressure on this speech. That means that it has to be informative, but not too informative, because the politicos will want to provide just enough information to illicit a reaction from both political sides of the argument, but not enough to where they pigeonhole themselves into a singular course of action.

President delivers a State of the Union address | Here's why |

For example, we will undoubtedly hear a lot about the war in Ukraine. It is a massively important event and the president would be politically derelict if he did not talk about it. But what will he say? Well, for starters, he will likely talk about the sanctions that have been levied against Russia and the immediate consequences thereof, including the plummeting value of the ruble, the lack of buyers for Russia’s natural resources, and the general unrest taking place in Moscow and other large Russian cities. But he won’t delve too much into that because he’ll want to leave wiggle room to downplay or inflate the effects of the sanctions in the future. Get it? That’s how that works.

President Biden will also likely talk about some of the State of the Union’s Greatest Hits: Healthcare, education, and job creation. These and many other big-ticket items are part of President Biden’s Build Back Better legislative agenda, but he will want to discuss them more frankly because he will have such a large television audience. For example, he will likely talk about capping the price of insulin, forgiving student loans, and investing federal dollars into infrastructure to create jobs.

We can also expect some slightly more radical ideas. It seems that every president throws at least a couple of more politically-charged ambitions in their State of the Union addresses. President Trump, for example, used his State of the Union to talk incessantly about the need for a giant, physical wall to prevent illegal immigration. This was wildly unpopular on the Left (and among common-sensers on the Right), but it was a part of his platform and he used the bully pulpit to try and generate more popular support. It didn’t work.

What will President Biden’s giant wall be? Student loan forgiveness? New tax brackets for the ultra-rich? Political asylum reform? Statutorily-capped prices for certain medical procedures? Covid vaccine mandates? Privacy issues on the Internet? Getting more American troops out of various countries in and around the Middle East? Standing up to the Chinese? Military support for Ukraine? Who knows? There are many directions he could go. I, for one, think that each of those topics will be covered, but that the real pièce de résistance will be capping certain healthcare costs, primarily the price of insulin, which is, I might add, outrageous. I have friends and family who suffer from Type I Diabetes and that insulin is pretty pricey.

President Obama Delivers his Final State of the Union Address - YouTube

On the non-content side, we can also expect a lot of downtime. The entire State of the Union address is like the final two minutes of a close basketball game when both teams are in the double-bonus and have all their timeouts. The president will speak for a sentence or two, then the entire Democrat delegation will clap for twice as long as it took him to actually get the words out of his mouth. Or maybe he says something that is unexpectedly bipartisan (unexpected in that there seem to have been fewer and fewer bipartisan sentiments over the last 20 years) and both sides of the audience will stand and clap forever. When the president introduces one of his there-for-dramatic-effect guests, there will likely be standing ovations from everyone. It will be, shortly, boring. The content should be worth listening to, but the clapping is awful and will add at least 45 minutes to the air time.

What to Expect Tomorrow

CNN will praise it, Fox News will crap on it. That’s it. But please—I’m begging you—do not get your reaction from CNN or Fox News. Watch it yourself and form your own opinions. The more independently we form our opinions, the better we are. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and all the other cable “news” outlets are in the business of shaping opinions to increase viewership. They have no real interest in providing you with information and allowing you to draw your own conclusions from that. They want to tell you what your opinion is then let you argue with equally uninformed folks on the other side.

Regardless, the sun will rise, time will march on, and ultimately we’ll have to see how the stances in the State of the Union will play out over the coming year.

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