Six Takeaways From State of the Union Night
The State of the Union is endlessly dissected. Often, though, the most important stories don't come from the speech itself but from the way it's delivered, how people react, and even the little jokes that slip in between scripted remarks. Here are six takeaways from State of the Union night.
1. Obama outmaneuvers the media
A few minutes before the beginning of the speech, the White House posted the State of the Union text on the site Medium. “There is a ritual on State of the Union night in Washington,” the White House wrote. “A little before the address, the White House sends out an embargoed copy of the President’s speech to the press (embargoed means that the press can see the speech, but they can’t report on it until a designated time). The reporters then start sending it around town to folks on Capitol Hill to get their reaction, then those people send it to all their friends, and eventually everyone in Washington can read along, but the public remains in the dark. This year we change that.”
“Whoever thought of the idea of putting this stuff out in advance was brilliant because it liberated the president,” said Bloomberg Politics' Mark Halperin during special State of the Union coverage on “With All Due Respect.”
2. Clinton's social media machine is ramping up
While the White House spilled the beans on most of the speech's major announcements on social media in the days leading up to it, the former secretary of state has been relatively dormant, not tweeting at all between Dec. 6 and Jan. 16. On Tuesday night, she wrote that the speech “pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class. #FairShot #FairShare”
3. But Warren may be dominating the conversation
As Bloomberg Politics' Lisa Lerer and Margaret Talev wrote, the president's proposals may be almost entirely unattainable, but his “middle-class economics” message pushes the party toward its progressive wing dominated by Senator Elizabeth Warren—just as moderate Clinton is likely readying a 2016 announcement.
On the other hand, former White House communications director Anita Dunn told said it's a motivating speech for Democrats no matter what bloc they represent. “I would think she would be very happy,” Dunn said of Clinton. “He set out very clear goals, very clear thematics that I think create a lot of space for anybody that might be thinking of running for president on the Democratic ticket to move behind and to embrace.”
4. A gaffe-free response is a win
The State of the Union response from the opposition party can be a minefield, and anything suggesting a lack of polish can obscure the message. There were giggles early in the night that freshman Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, who is a combat veteran, had worn camouflage shoes, perhaps signaling a response that wasn't Washington-ready. It provided fodder for a meme after she gave a response that referred to the one good pair of shoes she had as a child. But she kept the focus mostly on her party's agenda, to positive reviews.
5. Populism is back
Presidents always talk about the economy, but Obama's focus on the middle class and his calls for cheaper education and closing tax loopholes made the president sound “more populist than we heard from him,” said progressive favorite Zephyr Teachout. Ernst too lamented seeing “our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs.”
6. The guests are fair game
Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa stirred up a controversy when he tweeted before the speech to complain that the first lady had invited a young woman who was brought to the country illegally as an infant. “#Obama perverts 'prosecutorial discretion' by inviting a deportable to sit in place of honor at #SOTU w/1st Lady. I should sit with Alito.” Conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito skipped the proceedings. Elsewhere, Republicans and Democrats sparred over invites that sent varying messages on the president's new policy toward Cuba.