State of the Union Analysis

Welcome to the RAC’s live 2011 State of the Union commentary and analysis.  We’ll be updating this blog throughout the evening, highlighting parts of the President’s speech that have particular resonance, and noting as well what is left unsaid.

This is President Obama’s 2nd formal State of the Union address, though he has come to the Capitol on other occasions to speak to members of Congress, including his September 2009 speech about health insurance reform.

Updates on the issues made during and in response to the President’s address are after the jump.

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Update #1 – Education: “We commend the President for recognizing the shortcomings of the No Child Left Behind Act and the failures of our public school system and calling on Congress to fix America’s public education.”

Update #2 – Immigration: “With twelve million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of American society, and no federal government action to address the issue, states around the country are taking immigration matters into their own hands.”

Update #3 – Health Care: “President Obama stood firm on retaining the provisions that ban discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors and allow young adults to remain on their parents’ plans until age 26.”

Update #4 – Energy: “Though
we need to follow in President Obama’s call for clean energy, we encourage
caution when including coal and natural gas in that title. We must move towards
clean energy. Currently, we are losing our competitive advantage in this
critical area, especially to China.
has become the leading producer of wind turbines and solar panels


Update #5 – Foreign Policy – “As he said “Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power – it must be the purpose behind it.”

Update # 6 – Campaign Finance Reform – “Congress will reportedly vote sometime this week on legislation introduced by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) to eliminate the Presidential public financing program. When President Obama became the first major-party nominee to entirely forego public financing since the program’s inception, he argued that he had no choice because the system was “broken,” but vowed to fix it.”

Update #7 – Israel – “Sadly, despite the efforts of Special Envoy George Mitchell, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the President himself, the first two years of the Obama administration have seen no clear steps taken toward a lasting peace agreement in the region.

Update #8 – Civil Liberties – “The Reform Movement has very clear policy on the issue of civil liberties and national security. Our hope is that Congress, and the public, can engage in the sort of spirited debate over this law’s provisions, its contribution to our nation’s security and the need to ensure as well the protection of civil liberties.”

Update #9 – Gun Control – “The ‘right’ to bear arms is anything but simple. Constantly debated, its has gone through many re-incarnations in understanding over the years. Yet the issue was entirely ignored in this year’s State of the Union address.”

Update #10 – Gulf Coast Recovery – “Though the President spoke to the need for our country to return to competitiveness through clean energy innovation, he missed a critical opportunity to address the ongoing fossil fuel-induced tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly one year after the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 men and set off the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history, the environmental and economic consequences for communities across the Gulf Coast remain”

Update #11 – Deficit – “Jewish tradition teaches us, “A small bit of bread may be life to the poor; one who deprives them of it sheds blood” (Ben Sira). Shaving the budgets for essential social safety net programs means the difference between living above and below the poverty line for millions of Americans.”

The web is buzzing today with interesting and fun State of the Union facts. (The Christian Science Monitor is making this information interactive, in the form of an online quiz.


The Washington Post has this ( interesting piece about the people Presidents have spotlighted in past speeches, and how that brief moment of fame has impacted them.  This evening’s guest list includes several faces that have become familiar to Americans since the tragedy in Tucson 2 weeks ago, including Daniel Hernandez, the intern who helped save Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s life and who spoke ( so eloquently at the memorial service the following week. The family of 9 year old Christina-Taylor Green, who was killed in the shooting, will also be in the House chamber tonight. The biographies of other guests have been posted on the White House website ( 


Not in the audience: 3 out 9 Supreme Court Justices.    Though we don’t yet know who will be staying home, last year’s disagreement between President Obama and Justice Alito over the Court’s ruling in the Citizen’s United case was caught on camera, making for an awkward moment.


The biggest unknown right now is how long the speech will last (and how much of your favorite shows will be pre-empted).  Last year, President Obama’s speech was 7,304 words and took 70 minutes to deliver.  That included all the pauses the President took while members of Congress applauded, slowing down the delivery.  Which brings us to this year’s innovation: mixed seating.


Regular State of the Union watchers know that seating in the House chamber tends to be divided along partisan lines.  It’s not always obvious until the President hits a big applause line and half the chamber stands up in ovation while the remainder sits firmly glued to their seats.  This year, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) took calls for increased civility to heart and suggested that members of different parties sit together.  The media is having a ball with the idea, calling it Capitol “prom night.”  Some of the pairings are required: The new GOP House majority means that Speaker Boehner will be seated on the dais next to Vice President Biden.  The other pairings are by choice, and there are certainly some strange bedfellows: Liberal NY Senator Chuck Schumer (D) is sitting with Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of the most conservative members of Congress. 


The Republican response will be delivered by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.  At age 39, Ryan has already been a member of the House for 11 years and is the new Chairman of the House Budget Committee.  He is one of the main intellectual forces behind the House Republican agenda and author of the Roadmap for America’s Future. 


Check back soon for more as the speech gets underway.

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