How memorable is any State of the Union address?
One of the challenges for the news media is making sense out of the chaotic jumble of events we cover. We're always looking for patterns or trends to help explain what just happened and where we're headed. And we're especially fond of big events that offer snapshots of where things stand or, better yet, that signal a change in direction (i.e., an "inflection point").
That's why we make such a fuss about the annual presidential State of the Union addresses, even though they tend to be long-winded wish lists that are forgotten soon after they're delivered. As soon as a copy of President Obama's address comes out Tuesday afternoon, we'll pore over it for clues about his priorities and how persuasively he's selling them to the public. Meanwhile, seemingly every interest group across the country will be clamoring for the chance to tout how right or wrong the president is on the issues it advocates or opposes.
It's a circus under an airtight big-top, well insulated from the real world.
Aside from President George W. Bush dubbing North Korea, Iraq and Iran an "axis of evil" nine years ago, can you remember any other utterance from a State of the Union? Can you even remember what Obama talked in his last State of the Union? Did he even give one?
In fact, he did. Take our quiz and see whether any of the details stayed with you. We'll do this in multiple-choice style, increasing your chance of being right by 25%.
1) Which of these proposals did Obama call on Congress to enact?
a) Levying a fee on big banks to pay for the Wall Street bailout
b) Letting workers unionize through signature drives instead of secret ballots
c) Imposing a tax on carbon
d) Requiring sixth-graders to read "Das Kapital."
2) What did Obama say the nation's "No. 1 focus" in 2010 should be?
a) Reforming the healthcare system
b) Re-regulating the financial industry
c) Putting a woman with no judicial experience on the Supreme Court
d) Creating jobs
3) Which of the following did Obama not call for in last year's State of the Union?
a) More tax cuts for businesses
b) A freeze on discretionary spending
c) A constitutional amendment allowing presidents to be nationalized citizens.
d) More nuclear power plants
Extra-credit question: Which of the following examples of American goodness did Obama cite?
a) A 10th-grade English teacher in Boston who used his earnings as a mixed-martial-arts fighter to create a scholarship fund for the poor students at his school
b) An 8-year-old boy in Louisiana who sent his allowance to Obama and asked that it be donated to the people of Haiti
c) A troop of Girl Scouts who spent the summer helping defaulting homeowners gather the paperwork needed to apply for loan modifications
d) A disabled gay community organizer who used his portable oxygen tank to upend, disarm and subdue a robber at a church picnic
Good luck! Answers after the jump. And please, no peeking at the actual speech.
1) a -- it was the first thing he specifically called on Congress to do, in fact. None of the others on the list rated a mention.
2) d -- He went on at some length on the kinds of incentives Congress ought to provide to businesses to persuade them to hire.
3) c -- The business tax cuts eventually made their way into the deal Obama struck with Republicans to extend all the Bush tax cuts, which Obama had opposed doing in this speech. He also called for a three-year freeze on spending, starting in the fiscal year that began in October 2010, and he said that developing a new generation of nuclear plants should be part of the nation's energy policy.
-- Jon Healey
Photo: President Obama delivering his State of the Union address to Congress in January 2010. Credit: Tim Sloan / Associated Press