Sunday, February 03, 2019


"...and freedom from want. Speaking of which, you can't see past these microphones, but you wouldn't believe what my cousin's doing down here..."

(What's this? Newly-written, topically relevant content? Don't worry, I've no intention of making a habit of it.)

1. January 29, 2002: George W. Bush's first SOTU address was slightly undermined by his misunderstanding of the name of the speech as "State of the Onion." That evening, he delivered a stirring, impassioned speech in the company of a large Walla Walla Sweet ("In a single instant, we realized that this will be a decisive decade in the history of liberty, that we've been called to a unique role in human events.  Rarely has the world faced a choice more clear or consequential. But through at all, I believe that it's an awful lot of fun to say 'Walla Walla Sweet.' Try it, come on. 'Walla Walla Sweet,' 'Walla Walla Sweet.' You think al-Qaeda can say that? That's why they hate us so much. Thank you all. May God bless."), in front of a backdrop of a handmade chart depicting projected post-9/11 defense spending and a watercolor of a Welsh onion wearing a kilt and giving America a thumbs-up. It remains renowned as "the single greatest speech of his presidency" (Impressionable Vegetable Enthusiast, June-April 2015-6), in spite of his fourteen-minute giggle fit while trying to say the word "Anglosperm."

2. Since 1917, almost all of the SOTUs have been delivered in-person before a joint session of Congress. The major exception was 1978, when Jimmy Carter became the first Democratic President to deliver his address via the medium of tap.

3. The name "State of the Union" itself was coined by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, though it was only his third choice after "Gov Gab with Numero Uno" and "What's My Beef, America?"

4. The practice of a representative of the opposing party delivering a post-address response was implemented in 1966, though the practice of merely repeating what the President said in a mocking, dumb-guy voice has been discouraged since 2009.

5. James Monroe introduced the "Monroe Doctrine" in his SOTU speech in 1823. By coincidence, 140 years later, John F. Kennedy reportedly used the space beneath his podium to implement a little "Monroe Doctrine" of his own, if you follow my wake.

6. Ronald Reagan's 1985 address ended with a rousing, repeated chant of "America Rules, Canada Drools." Immediately, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney demanded a public retraction and apology, firmly stating that, given the temperatures up there and all, that excessive salivation would be decidedly unwise. (He then ducked out of the room and imposed a $50 fine on himself for violations of the Firm Statement Avoidance Act of 1985.) The U.S. refused, leading to an international incident (or, in Canadian parlance, an "oh geez") and an embargo on maple syrup exports to the States - "not all of it," the PM said, "just the stuff in the nice bottles." Two days later, Canada reversed the embargo and subsequently avoided direct eye contact with the U.S. for the next six years, for fear that they'd bring it up.

7. The shortest SOTU on record occurred in 1975, when Gerald Ford pronounced the state of the union "cloudy."

8. The SOTU is typically written by the President himself with the assistance of various aides and cabinet members, except for 1973, when Richard Nixon farmed out the bulk of the work to comedian Rip Taylor. This may explain why the address ended with Nixon dumping a bag of confetti over the head of Secretary of State Carl Albert.

9. One of the most noteworthy SOTUs of modern times was FDR's 1941 speech, with his invocation of what he called the Four Freedoms. Advance word has it that the current President intends to evoke the Four Freedoms in Tuesday's address, in the spirit of bipartisanship, shared values, and because he heard that Jersey Boys musical about them was pretty good.

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