State of The Union 2011: A viewer's guide
Curious seatmates! Presidential pep talks! Two rebuttals! What to look for before, during, and after President Obama's State of the Union address
President Obama will deliver his second State of the Union address this evening to both Houses of Congress and as many as 50 million television viewers. The president is expected to use the hour-long speech to push his credentials as a pro-business centrist, and buoy Americans about the state of the economic recovery. (Watch an AP report about Obama's focus.) Here, a guide to tonight's setting, what the president might say — and what he ought to say, but won't:
THINGS TO NOTE BEFORE THE SPEECH• Unusual seat-mate pairings: Lawmakers have decided to shuffle the seating plan as a mark of respect to the victims of the shootings in Arizona earlier this month. Many members of Congress will sit next to colleagues from their rival party. Watch Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sit alongside Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Sen Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) cozy up to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) on the House floor. "Two of the most photogenic senators," adds Tom Cohen at CNN, "say they will sit together." That's John Thune (R-S.D.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) • Supreme Court no-shows: Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. said last year he was "very troubled" by the "setting, circumstance, and decorum" of the State of the Union address, after Obama criticized a key decision the court had made on campaign financing. Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative member of the court, was shown shaking his head in disagreement and mouthing the words "not true" at Obama's words. "Court-watchers will look for partisan motivations Tuesday night," says Robert Barnes in The Washington Post, "when at least some of the black-robed justices file into the House chamber." Alito is not expected to be among them.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE SPEECH• Straight talk on government spending: Expect Obama to be honest about tackling the federal government's deficit, says Frank James at NPR, but to advocate for spending to be cut sensibly, not haphazardly. "Competitiveness" will be the watchword for the 2011 address, say Carol E. Lee and Glenn Thrush in Politico. The president will cite it as reason for increased spending on "innovation, education, and infrastructure." Critics of his health care reform will be disappointed by the "hefty shout-out" Obama will give the legislation. (Watch PBS analysts' predictions)• Vague discussion of tax reform: Obama will also talk about "overhauling the corporate tax code," says The New York Times, but won't give many details. The speech in general will be "more thematic than heavy on specific policy initiatives."• Cheerleading: The president will aim to sound like a coach giving a "pep talk" to a lagging team, says John Dickerson in Slate. He will try to "get everyone enthusiastic about all the wind-sprints and push-ups he's going to ask them to do" — but will "promise a Hollywood ending" if they get it right.
WHAT (LIKELY) WON'T BE IN THE SPEECH• Support for climate change: Obama should support the science behind climate change, says David Roberts at Grist, and defend the EPA. Of course, he'll "say nothing of the sort."• Acknowledgement of the recession's impact on minorities: The president ought to emphasize how "minorities have struggled disproportionately through the recession," says Cynthia Gordy in The Root. Over 15 percent of blacks are unemployed, compared with 8.5 percent for whites. Will he bring it up? "It's unlikely."• Concrete tax news: The business community would like for Obama to keep lower taxes in place "for the long haul," says Paul R. LaMonica at CNN Money. But no economists worth their salt will be "holding [their] breath for such a proclamation."
WHAT WILL HAPPEN AFTERWARDS• The official GOP rebuttal: Immediately after Obama winds up, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will offer a rebuttal on behalf of the Republican Party. Ryan would do best to explain how the Republican "vision" of "pro-growth and pro-free markets" differs from Obama's "pro-cronyism" vision, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. He must align himself with "small business, the ordinary worker, and the next generation of Americans."• The Tea Party rebuttal: Ryan won't be the only GOP figure offering a response. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) will deliver a second speech that's expected to underscore "the division between the Republican establishment and the party's activist wing," says The Wall Street Journal. TV viewers may have to switch channels to watch Bachmann's response, reports The Hill. Only CNN will air it in full.