Obama Wants an Hour for His SOTU Speech. Here’s How He Can Do It Better in 10 minutes.

Making government work better.
Jan. 23 2012 6:28 PM

Save the State of the Union!

Obama wants an hour for his speech. Here’s how he can do better in 10 minutes.

US President Barack Obama delivers the annual State of the Union address for 2011.
Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in 2011

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images.

For a political speech, the State of the Union is surprisingly riveting drama. The pomp of the president entering the legislative chamber to rousing applause as members of Congress jockey to get a presidential nod or handshake makes good TV, and suggests that what happens in Washington still matters.

But once the Republican response has been delivered and the clamor of cable commentary subsides, the State of the Union fades quickly. There are no visuals during the speech to reinforce the message; there are too many issues addressed perfunctorily; and the carnival nature of the event distracts from the points being made. Americans forget overnight what the point of the speech was.

This is a major problem in any year, but a special one for this president, this week, since he desperately needs to make his case for re-election to a skeptical American public.

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Since the media focus has been almost exclusively on the wild and crazy antics of the Republican primary, the president has had few opportunities to grab public attention. He has been overshadowed by the brilliant performance art/political campaign of Newt Gingrich and the unintended humor of Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. So what should the president do on Tuesday night to recapture the interest of the public?

Here is a proposal: President Obama should radically change the nature and format of the speech. He should dispense with the timeworn tradition of merely standing in front of Congress and talking to them. Instead, he should distill his speech to four essential points and reinforce those points with very strong visuals. The audience the president needs to engage is the public, and the public won’t connect with his ideas unless they see what he is talking about.

So here is an outline of the four points, and the visuals to go with them. The entire speech need be no more than 10 minutes. The longer and more diffuse the speech, the less memorable. At 10 minutes, it would be perfect for viral distribution on YouTube.

So here goes:

My fellow Americans,

Tonight I stand before you to make four simple—but critical—points.

First: Jobs. Take a look at this simple chart of job growth over the past three years. Compare what happened during my predecessor’s last year in office and my presidency. We are getting the job done; They did not. My ideas—though disparaged by the same wise folks who created the crisis in the first place—have succeeded. Theirs failed. We have created 1.9 million private-sector jobs over the past year and cut the unemployment rate from 9.4 percent to 8.5 percent.

120123_01_NetChangeInPrivateSectorJobs

Second: Average family income has been flat since 1979—see that dark red line—while the income of those at the top has gone way up—look at the orange line.

120123_02_AverageHouseholdIncome

On top of that, the tax rate paid by those at the top has gone way down!

120123_03_TopMarginalTaxRates

That is why the percentage of total income going to those at the top has skyrocketed, while the number of people in poverty has reached an historic high—more than 46 million, or 15 percent of our population.

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