All State of the Unions Are Boring

Not even a scandal-ridden Bill Clinton could make one interesting.

Will Leitch

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Tuesday night, Joe Biden will give his third State of the Union speech as President of the United States. The State of the Union speech is as storied a tradition as we have in this country, a formal address to the nation that is meant to be a check-in that everything’s fine, don’t worry, but is ultimately ignored by the populace, and for good reason. The speech is basically just a laundry list of accomplishments, shout-outs, political slogans and rote prattle: It may be impossible for any President, even one as sometimes-entertainingly unhinged as Donald Trump, to make one of them interesting. You certainly don’t expect Joe Biden to produce an electric one: A large part of Biden’s appeal is his ability to be reliably dull, when we want him to be. It’s going to be boring. We all know it.

There have only been three times in my life I can ever remember being interested in a State of the Union address. The most recent was Trump’s first one, in February 2017, which was not technically a State of the Union but effectively served as one. You wondered what in the world this freakshow was going to say in his first moment in such an official, formal capacity: It ended up being, surprise, pretty boring, proving not even Trump could enliven it. The last SOTU I looked forward to before that one was Barack Obama’s first one, which, like Trump’s, was not officially a SOTU: The first one after a new President is elected technically is just “an address to a joint session of Congress.” I was excited for that one because I had campaigned hard for Obama and was simply thrilled to see him on that stage. He turned out to be dull in that speech too, though.

And if you wanted definitive proof that no SOTU can be interesting, I take you back to 1998. That was Bill Clinton’s fifth SOTU, ordinarily something that’s easily skipped, except for one thing:

This had happened the very day before.

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Will Leitch

Author of six books, including “How Lucky” and "The Time Has Come." NYMag/MLB.. Founder, Deadspin. https://williamfleitch.substack.com