early and often

What You Missed in the 2016 State of the Union Address

President Obama Delivers His Last State Of The Union Address To Joint Session Of Congress
“In the words of Pete Venkman, ‘I bet you’ll be thinking about me, after I’m gone.’” Photo: Mark Wilson/2016 Getty Images

The White House hinted that this year’s State of the Union address, Obama’s last, wouldn’t include the usual list of boring policy proposals, and the president kicked things off by claiming the speech would be much shorter than usual. Neither of those things turned out to be true, but the address was different — mainly because a significant amount of time was devoted to rebutting the worldview of various GOP presidential candidates. Also, the Statler and Waldorf routine that takes place behind the president was a bit of a letdown; Joe Biden resisted the urge to gesticulate at audience members and new addition Paul Ryan seemed committed to moving as little as possible. Here’s a look at the highs and lows.

Most Heartwarming Moment Involving a Supreme Court Justice:

Moment When Someone Should Have Shouted “You Lie!”:
“Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the state of the Union. And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.”

Most Troubling Ad-Lib:
There was no reference to the opioid crisis in Obama’s prepared remarks, but the problem has grown so serious that the president decided to mention it in the first two minutes of his speech. “I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal-justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription-drug abuse and heroin abuse,” he said.

Most Engaged Presidential Candidate:
As Obama started dishing out the Donald Trump insults, Senator Bernie Sanders decided to take notes.

Least Engaged Presidential Candidate:
Though the real winners are Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who chose not to attend.

Line That Confirms Ted Cruz Was Smart to Skip the Speech:
“The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.”

Most Well-Received Jab at Congress:
“We also need benefits, and protections that provide a basic measure of security. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and a retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.”

Most Unwanted Shout-Out:
“I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty. America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up, and I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don’t have children.”

This was the only reaction Ryan could muster:

Speaker Ryan’s Greatest Achievements in Stillness:
The Micro-Nod.

The “I Like Voting Rights, But Not Enough to Move.”

The “Thank God That’s Over” Hand Tap.

Best Tangential Dig at Climate-Change Deniers:
“Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.”

Biggest Surprise Assignment:
President Obama asked Joe Biden to cure cancer, which the vice-president said should be America’s next “moonshot” following his son Beau’s death. “Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done,” Obama said. “And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of mission control.”

Biden told Ryan the task was “news to me.”

Most Suspicious Response to the Line “The United States of America Is the Most Powerful Nation on Earth”:
Do they know something that we don’t?

Best Subtle Trump Attack:
“America has been through big changes before … Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future, who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears.”

Best Obvious Trump Attack:
“We need to reject any politics — any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal, it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I’m standing on tonight that ‘to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.’ When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad, or fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it what — telling it like it is, it’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”

Biggest Sign That There Weren’t Many Trump Supporters in Attendance:
Pretty much everyone in the room was anti-Islamophobia.

Most Self-Deprecating Moment:
“It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”

Least Dramatic Performance by a 2015 Meme:

Most Inspiring Call to Action:
“Changes in our political process — in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected — that will only happen when the American people demand it. It depends on you. That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.

What I’m suggesting is hard. It’s a lot easier to be cynical, to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is, all the folks who are elected don’t care, and to believe that our voices and our actions don’t matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.”

Biggest Signs That Nothing Is Actually Going to Change in Washington:

Best Summary of the General Response to the 2016 State of the Union:

What You Missed in the 2016 State of the Union