January 28, 2003

Presidential rhetoric’s big night…

For those of us who study the rhetoric of the presidency, the State of the Union address is our big night. The only other address that similarly sets our hearts aflutter is the inaugural address.

I’ll prepare an analysis of the address for Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004 by late Wednesday afternoon.

Mid-term State of the Union Addresses are unique in that a first-term president now has a political track record and a list of unfulfilled promises. Bush is no different. These mid-term addresses typically recall recent successes and prepare the way for the third year legislative session and the presidential campaign.

Complicating this formula is the prospect of war with Iraq.

To be successful tonight, I believe Bush must:

1) Either set out a more moderate domestic agenda in line with the views of most Americans (as interpreted from polling over the past few months), or offer principled justification for his “compassionate” conservative agenda. This includes dealing fairly with, among other things, the issues of taxes, health care, and affirmative action.

2) Give us the facts about Iraq (re: Noonan).

3) Deliver the best speech of his life in terms of eloquence, presentation, and presence, i.e. look and sound like a world leader. (I do not mean to make this sound impossible. I think Bush and his speechwriters are quite capable of pulling this off. Further, it is not necessary that every State of the Union address be “the best speech of his life.” Some have been quite dull, pedestrian, and perfectly adequate to the situation. This moment in history, however, requires more from Bush than, say, a Clinton-like laundry list of social programs or a Reagan-like litany of sunny anecdotes.)

For more on tonight’s address, check out these articles from The New York Times and the Washington Post.

UPDATE (2:50 p.m.): TomPaine.com offers this preview.

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