State of the Union: What to Watch

Feb 12, 2013 5:57pm
gty barack obama jef 130211 wblog State of the Union: What to Watch

President Barack Obama speaks during his State of the Union address, Jan. 25, 2011. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

Tune in to ABCNews. com/live at 9 p.m. ET for anchored coverage of President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address.

GUNS VS. (BREAD AND) BUTTER – The White House has made clear tonight’s speech will focus on jobs and the economy. Coming after of an inaugural speech that focused heavily on social issues, that’s welcome news to Democrats who fear the president isn’t focusing where the American people want him to. But as President Obama talks about restoring economic opportunity, and growing the economy from the “middle out,” the emotional core of the evening will be pulling him in different directions. Gun-control advocates are literally packing the hall with as many victims and victims’ family members as they can round up. One Republican congressman from Texas invited pro-gun rocker Ted Nugent in response. Meanwhile, progress on immigration reform has only increased the urgency for action, and Republicans recognize the importance of reaching Latinos so acutely that they chose their responder in part for his ability to record a response in fluent Spanish. The president will be making the case for a progressive vision of economic growth, in an era of deficits and cutbacks, but even many of his allies are pulling in slightly different directions.

MARCHING ORDERS – We often say there are two audiences for a president’s State of the Union address – members of Congress inside the hall, and the general public outside. But tonight you may want to consider a third group that’s only a sliver of the 40-million-odd people who watch the speech on television. The former Obama campaign apparatus has been reconstituted as “Organizing for Action,” a not-for-profit committed to pushing the Obama legislative agenda from the outside. Members are holding viewing parties tonight across the country. Tonight will be the best setting to date for Obama to move his troops into position.

LAPEL LABELING – Remember “date night”? That’s so 2012. The shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Jan. 2011 spawned the grand bipartisan gesture of Democrats actually sitting next to Republicans in large numbers during the last two State of the Union addresses. There will be some of that tonight, but the bigger story will be the pins. At least 40 victims or family members of victims of gun violence will be among those in the balcony tonight, the product largely of an organizing effort by Rep. James Langevin – himself an accidental shooting victim – to get colleagues to give their guest passes to those impacted by gun tragedies. They’ll be wearing green ribbons tonight. Don’t confuse them with the 40-odd lawmakers who will be wearing orange pins that read “Stop Fighting, Start Fixing.” They’ve been brought together by the bipartisan group No Labels. Sometimes it’s the little images that wind up lasting out of events like tonight’s.

Related: 7 Things President Obama Says at Every State of the Union Address

HASHTAG IT – State of the Unions are a place catchy taglines are born. The “axis of evil” and the “war on poverty” were both born in these settings. President Franklin Roosevelt rallied the nation girding for war around “essential human freedoms”; five decades later, President Bill Clinton grabbed the middle of the country by declaring “the era of big government is over.” Less memorably, “win the future” was the theme of Obama’s 2011 speech. (As Sarah Palin famously responded, “WTF?”) In the era of social media, the quest is on for anything Tweetable that the president can rally his supporters around. For the record, “You lie!” was uttered by a Republican congressman at a joint session of Congress in September 2009, not a State of the Union, but it’s always possible the most memorable line of the night isn’t the president’s.

2016 STARTS NOWSen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., steps into the harsh spotlight of a State of the Union response tonight, in the footsteps of fellow 2016 possibilities Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, and Bob McDonnell, who’ve responded to previous Obama addresses. Rubio, a first-term senator, is already being hailed by Time magazine as the GOP’s “savior,” and the 41-year-old Cuban-American is recording his response in both English and Spanish. In a taste of possible primary foreshadowing, tea party organizers have selected another senator, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, to deliver a separate response that will follow Rubio’s. Responding to the president is a tough gig. Two senators tonight will be tested tonight, in plenty of time for the next campaign.

 

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