SOTU: 7 Things Obama Always Says

We already know what the president will talk about

Feb. 12, 2013 -- State of the Union speeches aren't too complicated.

Notorious as wish lists, they generally include sweeping benedictions of America's prowess, plus lots of ideas for things that may or may not happen. Tonight, Democrats will busily stand and sit and stand again, cheering President Obama's exhortations and admonitions, while Republicans (who control the House) sit stony-faced, resolute, and opposed. When cameras pan over GOP lawmakers, the reality of partisan politics will be brought back to light.

Watch the Streaming Coverage of State of the Union 2013 at 9 p.m. ET

President Obama has said a lot of things during his four State of the Union speeches—including the 2009 address to Congress that the White House protested wasn't a "State of the Union," per se—and he's said a lot of those things more than once.

In fact, whatever his top messages are tonight (immigration and gun control are safe bets) there are some topics and tropes we should expect of him, mostly because he's said them in every State of the Union address he's given. Here are seven things Obama always says, and, if the past is prologue, will say again tonight, even if the words are slightly different:

Read on for things Obama says every year or click below for an interactive State of the Union history lesson:

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1. Education: Let's improve it! In each of his SOTU speeches, President Obama has talked about education, mostly in similar terms. In 2009, he talked about tuition prices and subsidizing college for community volunteers; in 2010, he talked about community colleges and a tuition tax credit; in 2011, he plugged Race to the Top and the same tax credit; in 2012, he talked about community colleges again. It may not be the focus of his speech, but you can bet Obama will say something about education tonight.

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2. 'Clean Energy.' The phrase "clean energy" or "renewable energy" has appeared in each of the president's State of the Union addresses. Tonight, he's expected to stump for action on climate change, however implausible that is, politically, and "clean energy" will probably figure into that part of his speech. The president lobbied most forcefully for cap-and-trade legislation in 2009, when he pledged to "double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years" and pressed Congress for "legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution." Since then, he hasn't been as explicit about cap-and-trade, but he's praised renewables in hopeful terms every time.

3. Some Kind of Tax Credit. If history is any indication, Obama will call for some kind of tax credit, because he's done that in every SOTU so far. In 2009, it was a $2,500 credit for college tuition; in 2010, it was a credit for small businesses who hired new workers, and a $10,000 tuition credit for four years of college; in 2011, it was the same education credit; and in 2012, it was a doubling of the domestic-production credit for manufacturers. What will it be this time?

4. Shrink Our 'Deficit of Trust.'Obama can't talk about the future without talking about smaller deficits and fiscal responsibility. In 2009, Obama referenced his ill-fated pledge to halve the deficit by the end of his first term—since then, he's called for smaller deficits in every State of the Union address. And he's used the phrase "deficit of trust" in every speech except 2011's, segueing into political commentary. "Because we're also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget," he said in 2009. "We face a deficit of trust—deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years," he said in 2010. Last year, he dropped the phrase twice, saying his mortgage policies would "give those banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust" and again referencing the "deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street."

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5. America, and Specific Americans, Are the Best. It wouldn't be a State of the Union address without praise for America's resilience, particularly private-sector businesses and the unparalleled motivation of the American worker. In 2009, he called Americans "the hardest-working people on Earth." In 2010, he pledged, "We don't quit. I don't quit." In 2011, he reminded us that "America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities." In every year but 2010, Obama has talked about individuals with inspiring stories to illustrate these points: a bank president who gave away his bonus, a young girl who wrote to ask for funding for her school, the owner of a Pennsylvania drilling company who helped in the Chilean mine disaster, and a single mom who was laid off but found work at a turbine factory after taking robotics courses, to name a few.

6. Investment. Calls for "invest[ing]" have appeared in each of Obama's SOTU addresses, which makes sense: The speeches look forward to the future, and Obama typically calls for laying groundwork through investment in energy, education, and/or infrastructure. in 2011, Obama pledged, "We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology—an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people." Sometimes, he phrases it defensively. Last year, Obama warned, "Don't gut these investments in our budget. Don't let other countries win the race for the future."

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7. China, India, and Germany. Obama has mentioned China in all four of his speeches, Germany in three of them, and India in two. You can bet that at some point tonight, Obama will compare America to these nations, either in technology, energy production, or education. "I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here," he said last year. "China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting," he said in 2010.