Alex Massie

SOTU = Same Old Tired Utterances

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Barack Obama and George W Bush might not have much in common, but you can certainly argue that their speechwriters do. One of the limitations of set-piece events such as the State of the Union is that, in the end, many of them are pretty similar. Certainly, you can bet that the same ideas will be flagged and flogged every year.

Perhaps that's inevitable in these laundry-list speeches but if so then that's another argument for a shorter, punchier, thematic address* that at least tries to do something different or be in some way memorable.

So, many thanks to Cato's Tad DeHaven for compiling a list demonstrating how much of what we heard last night was much the same as much that we heard from George W Bush when he was in office. For instance:

“So we face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared. A job that pays the bills. A chance to get ahead. Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.” – Barack Obama, 2010 SOTU

vs

“We’re not the first to come here with a Government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and we can achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don’t much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we’re willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done. Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans and to help them build a future of hope and opportunity, and this is the business before us tonight.” – George W. Bush, 2007 SOTU

Or:

“I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight.” – Barack Obama, 2010 SOTU

vs

“Americans who have lost their jobs need our help, and I support extending unemployment benefits and direct assistance for health care coverage. Yet, American workers want more than unemployment checks; they want a steady paycheck. When America works, America prospers, so my economic security plan can be summed up in one word: jobs.” – George W. Bush, 2002 SOTU

And:

“Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we will still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. That’s why I’ve called for a bipartisan, Fiscal Commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. The Commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.” – Barack Obama, 2010 SOTU

vs

“So tonight I ask you to join me in creating a commission to examine the full impact of baby boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. This commission should include Members of Congress of both parties, and offer bipartisan solutions. We need to put aside partisan politics and work together and get this problem solved.” – George W. Bush, 2006 SOTU

And:

“Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will. We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work.” – Barack Obama, 2010 SOTU

vs

“Just as we trust Americans with their own money, we need to earn their trust by spending their tax dollars wisely. Next week, I’ll send you a budget that terminates or substantially reduces 151 wasteful or bloated programs, totaling more than $18 billion. The budget that I will submit will keep America on track for a surplus in 2012.” – George W. Bush, 2008 SOTU

And:

“Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families. To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants.” – Barack Obama, 2010 SOTU

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“We will help an additional 200,000 workers to get training for a better career, by reforming our job training system and strengthening America’s community colleges. And we will make it easier for Americans to afford a college education, by increasing the size of Pell Grants.” – George W. Bush, 2005 SOTU

More examples here. But if you found yourself thinking that you've heard much of it all before, well, that's because you have. These speeches, then, are great fun for political junkies but don't expect too much from them.

*Better still, mind you, would be a return to the practice of simply sending Congress a written report. But that won't happen unless the President is in disgrace.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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