Photo Credit: T. Sloan/AFP/Getty Images
Call me a nerd but I love "State of the Union" night. In a non-election year, it's the Oscars for political junkies. We have our popcorn at the ready, listening to the president and the Republican response, and then channel surfing for the analysis and oh yes, the spin.
But you don't have to love politics to get excited about this night when President Obama officially discusses the state of our union with the Congress and the nation. Huge issues are at stake for all of us -- an unemployment rate still hovering near double digits, a battle over healthcare reform and government spending, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a country that remains sharply divided at a time when our political discourse is anything but civil.
President Obama clearly has his work cut out for him during his State of the Union address -- and during the rest of his presidency. Here are just a few reasons why we think it's worth tuning in tonight:
The First State of the Union "Date Night"
Normally, Republicans sit on one side of the chamber and Democrats on the other during State of the Union speeches. But after the Tucson shooting rampage and questions about whether our political rhetoric has gotten too angry and violent, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) called on Democrats and Republicans to sit side by side. So far more than 60 members have signed on, including Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who's sitting next to Udall's cousin, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) who invited Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to sit next to him. It feels almost like prom night so our question, who's buying the corsages?
The First Lady’s Box
We learn a ton about the times -- and the president's top issues by the people invited to sit in the first lady's box. There probably won't be a dry eye in the chamber when the Green family is introduced: John and Roxanna, and their 11-year-old son, Dallas. Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, a baseball fan and member of her school's student council who was born on September 11, 2001, was killed during the Tucson shootings. Also attending is Daniel Hernandez, the congressional intern for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) who is credited with saving her life, and Dr. Peter Rhee, a U.S. Navy Veteran and military surgeon who, as chief of trauma at the University Medical Center in Tucson, oversaw the care for Giffords. The Arizona congressional delegation will leave one seat empty in the chamber in Giffords' honor as she focuses on her recovery in a Houston hospital.
As for some of the top issues we'll likely hear the president focus on, think jobs, healthcare and education as the box is filled with small business owners, high school students making scientific discoveries and a brain cancer patient who couldn't get coverage until now because of a pre-existing condition.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Here's a surefire way to stay engaged. Listen to the number of times the president mentions the word "jobs." With an unemployment rate at 9.4 percent, the president has indicated he'll make the economy his top priority. In a Democratic National Committee video last week, President Obama said, "My No. 1 focus is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing, and we are creating jobs." He told supporters he also will work on cutting the deficit and finding ways to make the federal government work more efficiently. He added, "I'm focused on making sure the economy is working for everybody, for the entire American family." So anyone want to start placing bets -- how many times will the commander-in-chief use the J word?
Will It Be a Speech for the Record Books?
Last year, the president's speech lasted more than an hour -- one hour and nine minutes to be exact. Obama became the first president to pass the hour mark since 2000, but sorry, Mr. President, your speech wasn't the longest. That record belongs to President Bill Clinton, whose State of the Union address in 2000 lasted an hour and a half, the longest ever. Let's give the former president a bit of a break. It was his last State of the Union after all, and he loved the presidency so he clearly didn't want to rush away from the podium. So will Obama break Clinton's record or top last year's length? Tune in to find out.
Behind-the-scenes look at the crafting of the president's speech.
The State of the President’s Tresses
Okay, we know we are moving into much more shallow ground, but have you noticed how the president's gray hair seems to have disappeared? At the State Dinner for the Chinese Prime Minister last week, the president's hair was more pepper than the salt-and-pepper look he sported only hours earlier. Has he changed his tune when it comes to dyeing his hair? His barber told the New York Times in 2009 that the president’s hair is "100-percent natural" and that he "wouldn't get it colored." Will any gray be evident tonight? Watch to find out.
What do you hope President Obama addresses in the State of the Union tonight? Chime in below!