State of the Union Preview: Five Things You're Guaranteed to See

No Nancy Pelosi on the screen tonight
No Nancy Pelosi on the screen tonight

President Obama addresses the Congress and the nation tonight in the annual State of the Union, which has become a rite as ossified and rigid as any. You've got the humble heroes sitting with the First Lady, the various standing o's, the predictable post-speech instant analysis from both sides of the spectrum.

True, Obama's presence in the White House so unnerved the right-wing nut element of the country that one of his speeches to Congress was spiced up by a congressman yelling "Liar," but don't expect such hijinks with the SOTU. (Unless, of course, some GOP rep wants to see his Internet fundraising spike.)

There are some things, however, you definitely will see. Here are five:

5. Video of a Republican and Democrat sitting together In the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, politicians searched energetically for the lamest possible idea they could put into action, and they came up with a winner: Sit with the opposite party. When they all rise to stirringly endorse the inevitable call to "disagree without being disagreeable" or "concentrate on the people's business and not our petty differences," feel free to wipe a tear (of laughter) away.

4. The mention of an incredibly obscure initiative of which you will never hear again President George W. Bush might not have been the most inspiring speechmaker, but none who were alive at the moment can forget where they were in 2006 when they heard his clarion call for America to make use of switch grass.

"We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol," he thundered, "not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switch grass."

Years later, a proud nation still has no idea what switch grass is. The SOTU is always, in part, a laundry list of programs which various departments in the administration lobby furiously to have mentioned. They win the battle, they get their mention and then go quietly away until next year.

3. Cue the Robert Palmer: "Might as well face it..." The only reason you might not hear the words "addicted to oil" tonight, or some variation thereof, is because Obama's speechwriters watch The Daily Show.

2. Sheila Jackson Lee shaking hands, possibly air-kissing Obama It's always funny to watch members of Congress reach over each other to shake hands with the President as if he was Aaron Rodgers at a Cheesehead convention. This goes for either party, but when there's a Democrat in the White House you can bet Sheila Jackson Lee will camp out however long it takes to get a prime aisle seat, so she can offer the words of encouragement without which the President would miserably fail.

1. The networks showing an empty chair when Obama pays tribute to Gabrielle Giffords and gets a lengthy standing ovation He'll have to mention the planned empty-seat gesture in the speech, or else it's just going to look odd. The thing to watch for is who blinks first in finally deciding the ovation has gone on more than long enough -- Republicans or Democrats.

In this new bipartisan age, they've probably worked out an agreement on just how long the clapping will last.

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