AMANPOUR: Welcome back. As President Obama makes his final edits to the State of the Union address, he faces many challenges, as you've heard, the economy, war, and defending his signature achievement, health care reform.
But, as ABC's John Donvan tells us, one of his biggest challenge may be originality.
(UNKNOWN): Madam Speaker, the president of the United States.
DONVAN (voice-over): So they announce him by title, and everyone stands up, and they applaud, and he gets to have that lookout at everyone from on high moment, and that's got to be, you know, for a guy with any sort of ego, gratifying. You've arrived.
But then, the speech part, a tradition started by George Washington and then skipped by all intervening presidents who sent up written messages until 98 years ago Woodrow Wilson went back to once again delivering the State of the Union message by saying out loud, which all presidents have done nearly every year since then.
The speech part, really, doesn't it seem a little bit like homework to us and to him? Why is he preparing this particular speech right now? Because it's mandatory. It's expected by a certain date. It's an exam paper.
And it's as though for decades they've been sitting in the same study circle, carouseling around the same answers or non-answers, because after Nixon said...
NIXON: The United States will not be department on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, and to keep our transportation moving.
DONVAN: ... then Ford said...
FORD: These proposals and actions can reduce our dependence on foreign energy supplies.
DONVAN: ... then Carter said...
CARTER: Our excessive dependence on foreign oil is a clear and present danger to our nation's security.
DONVAN: ... and, at every stop, the same thing, as the spin has spun. OK, one more ride to show it's not just about oil. Ready? Reagan said... REAGAN: We must bring federal deficits down.
DONVAN: ... and Bush said...
GEORGE H.W BUSH: We must get the federal deficit under control.
DONVAN: ... another Bush said...
GEORGE W. BUSH: First, we must balance the federal budget.
DONVAN: And look who only last year said...
OBAMA: We do what it takes to bring this deficit down.
DONVAN: The challenge for him now is to say something new and to say it in a House that has just been handed to the party of his opponents. Traditionally, this is where presidents get all bipartisan all of a sudden in their State of the Union message.
Clinton in '95, when Republicans had just won the House in a landslide...
CLINTON: Now all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike, must say we hear you. We will work together to earn the jobs you have given us.
DONVAN: Bush in 2007, when the landslide went the other way.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we're willing to cross that aisle when there's work to be done.
DONVAN: Maybe, too, citizens don't care very much what is said in these speeches because the phrasings, the gestures, the theatrics are so very recycled, from naming the heroes in the high seats to the borrowings from scripture.
CLINTON: Reverend Robert Schuller suggested that I read Isaiah 58:12.