What to look for at State of the Union

Barack Obama has many constitutional duties as president of the United States and he’ll perform one of them Tuesday night when he delivers his State of the Union speech.

It will be the second such speech of his second — and final — term as president.

These events are full of pomp and a good bit of pretense.

The House of Representatives chamber will fill with members of the House and their Senate brethren from the other end of the Capitol Building. The president’s Cabinet will come in — except for one who stays behind in the event of a catastrophic event. The Supreme Court will enter dressed in their justices’ robes. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top military brass, will take its place on the front row.

The announcement will come from the back of the chamber, “Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.” The president will walk through the door and shake hands and even kiss lawmakers who’ve been sitting in those choice seats since the start of the day; it reminds me of what happens when tickets go on sale for, oh, a Justin Beiber concert or when the newest PlayStation goes on sale at Best Buy.

The president will ascend to the podium, the applause still ringing from the standing crowd of legislators and others. They’ll sit and then the speaker will intone, “It is my honor to introduce to you, the president of the United States.”

Everyone will stand, clap some more, the president will motion for them to sit and then he’ll begin his speech.

Aside from the substance of the speech, which is more or less a secret until the day he delivers it, look for these things:

* How many times both Vice President Biden and Speaker John Boehner clap when the president delivers applause lines.

* How many times members of both parties stand while applauding.

* How often just one side of the chamber, the Democratic side, will stand; look for that to occur far more frequently than both sides standing.

* Which senators or House members are looking down while the president is speaking. My guess is that they’ll be tweeting or texting someone either far away or perhaps across the room. That’s becoming a bit of a new normal at these events.

I don’t intend to make light of this event. It’s a big deal. The president is given the floor to speak to the nation about the state of the Union. The 44th president will do that. He’ll offer a laundry list of programs he wants to move forward. He’ll make some declaration about how he believes the nation is faring.

Someone from the Republican Party will get the chance to respond in a televised speech.

All this will take place Tuesday at 8 p.m. on Panhandle PBS.

It then will be up to us individually to determine for ourselves the state of our beloved Union.


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