(Because Out of the Box International enjoys readers from around the world, I will provide a bit of context for the State of the Union address in the United States. This post will consider Presentation followed by subsequent posts on the Domestic agenda, and the Foreign policy agenda.)
The State of the Union (SOTU) address in the United States allows the sitting president to frame domestic and foreign policy matters from the perspective of the administration’s agenda, highlighting the accomplishments and and agenda in the best possible light. The opportunity for a president to demonstrate that his administration is deserving of the public’s confidence in leading the nation and maintaining security for the citizens is covered by all major networks; yet viewership is in decline. The SOTU address is a reporters treasure trove as every word spoken by the president is analyzed for a range of indicators and signs. Yet, the essential question for reporters and observers alike is, “Do I think this man doing a good job?” and “How well has he kept his promises since the last SOTU address?” And it is not just the president who is analyzed. The SOTU address is also about interpreting every hand clap and facial expression in the House chamber. The event is a place to see and be seen and is that rare moment when members of both parties and all three branches of the government of United States are in the same room, fully on display.
For the administration, the SOTU address is an opportunity to control the narrative and manage the optics. The president holds center stage as he sets forth his agenda for the next 2 years. As a democratically elected official, the president must inform the nation of the direction he intends to move the country and what issues he is willing to take on for the betterment of the citizens. The SOTU is always followed by a response from the opposition party with counterpoints and challenges to the president’s framing of his administrations accomplishments or agenda. It is all about fighting for and framing the agenda for political control. Summed up, the SOTU is a yearly report but more importantly it is about fighting for political positioning and gaining leverage in the political arena. So, how did President Obama do on January 20, 2015?
Clearly President Obama was buoyed by encouraging economic metrics that show a recovering U.S. economy. His energy, projection of confidence, and free-form response to the opposition party all signaled a “new day” for the Obama presidency. Mr. Obama referred to the moment as a the time to “turn the page”.
Framing the challenges his administration has faced since he took office; a debilitating economic crisis, wars in two theaters (Afghanistan & Iraq), the shifting landscape of hydrocarbon security, and ongoing transnational terrorist threats, his usual caution was set aside as he said, “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.”
The citizens of the United States like to see a confident president, not one who is on his heels as Mr. Obama has appeared in previous SOTU addresses. Twitter exploded when he responded free-form to glee in the House chamber as clapping from a Republican section interrupted the speech after he said, “I have no more campaigns to run”. Upon the interruption of his cadence, the President broke away from script to respond to the clapping by saying, “I know, because I won both of them.” Confident, competitive, unfazed by the obvious tension between his administration and the opposition party. For political theater, President Obama handled the 2015 SOTU quite well. No longer on the defensive, he was able to signal an ability to present a vibrant and engaged president ready for two more years of political combat. For my thoughts on domestic policy, see the next blog post.
(See the moment when the President went off-script: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/20/obama-state-of-the-union-i-won_n_6512526.html)
What do you think of the presidents overall presentation?