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The State of the Union is ... boring?

Tens of millions of Americans are expected to tune in to President Obama's State of the Union address. The dirty little secret surrounding these events is that, for all the anticipation and coverage, they are usually snoozers.

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Of course, those were all Republican critics who were, obviously, not Obama fans to begin with. But while left-leaning analysts and members of the mainstream media have tended to be somewhat less blunt in their critiques, many of them also clearly found Obama's previous State of the Unions lacking in interest and excitement (in other words, they thought the speeches were boring, too):

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Liz Marlantes covers politics for the Monitor and is a regular contributor to the Monitor's political blog, DC Decoder.

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  • In 2010, Obama's own Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, was famously caught appearing to nod off during the speech. Afterwards, The Atlantic's Josh Green wrote: "I don't see this being any kind of pivot point, catalyzing event, or even a speech that will have a lasting impact." Jonathan Chait, then writing for The New Republic, commented: "I wondered if his budget freeze had already claimed the entire White House speechwriting staff."
  • In 2011, NBC's David Gregory reported the speech "felt flat," adding: "The reaction was polite, but hardly rousing." Melinda Henneberger, then at Politics Daily, said the speech "reminded us that everyone needs an editor."
  • In 2012, comedian Jon Stewart ribbed Obama for mentioning the killing of Osama bin Laden at the start of the speech ("You opened with 'I killed bin Laden'? Does Rick Springfield open with 'Jessie's Girl'?") and offered some sympathy for a spilled milk joke that fell painfully flat: "As someone who does comedy for a living: been there."

In 2012, the University of Minnesota conducted an analysis of the past 70 State of the Union addresses and found that Obama's three speeches were all measurably simpler in their use of language, with shorter sentences and more monosyllabic words, than those of any other modern president – coming in at an eighth-grade reading comprehension level.

Sometimes, simple language can be compelling. Just not, it seems, when it comes to State of the Union addresses.

Of course, this year may be different – if nothing else, we'll have rocker (and gun rights advocate) Ted Nugent sitting in the audience to liven things up. But we're not exactly holding out hope. 


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