Bill Safire, an expert on such things, outlines a generic State of the Union address and makes some predictions for this 2004 edition.
Two points I find particularly interesting:
2. Defining adjective: The State of the Union is–what? “Strong” is popular; J.F.K. used “good”; Jerry Ford, in his first S.O.U., dared to judge it “not good.” If Bush chooses an unfamiliar adjective, that word will reverberate.
3. Interruptions by applause: Congress in joint session will clap on cue any time a president looks around. But watch how Democratic leaders Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi (who have already issued “prebuttals”) grimly sit on their hands. Observe calibrated reactions by candidates Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt, if they can spare the time to be there.
The first is a minor pet peeve of mine: saying “strong” every year is a pointless exercise. If it’s always “strong,” then let’s just skip it, along with pointing out that the night is “dark.” Substituting an unexpected adjective would indeed draw attention.
As Kevin Drum and others have noted, it’s no accident that the address is coming the night after the Iowa caucus. Any presidential address is a political event and, certainly, the SOTU that kicks off the election year is no exception. One wonders what lines in the speech will be crafted precisely to draw uncomfortable applause from Bush’s potential opponents?