Many mistakenly believe his first such speech, delivered on February 24, 2009, just over a month into his presidency, was a State of the Union address. It wasn’t. He spoke about conditions in the country that night, but above all else, his speech was intended not to be a general statement on the health of the country, but rather had a single purpose: to build confidence in his approach to slowing and reversing the recession.
“Tonight I want every American to know this,” he said, “We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.”
He next appeared before Congress on September 9th of that same year, to clarify the elements of the health-care reform plan he wanted. He tried to be conciliatory and reach out to Republicans and Democrats alike. But he was adamant about ending the debate on the issue and getting legislation enacted.
“The time for bickering is over,” he declared. “The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action.”
“Now is the time to deliver on health care, he said emphatically and repeated that sentence.”
That was the speech that will be remembered for a breach of protocol, when Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, shouted “You lie” after Mr. Obama stated that his plan would not fund abortion nor provide coverage to illegal immigrants. Wilson was widely denounced, and he later apologized.
It was in that speech that the President also vowed that he would not sign a health care plan that adds so much as “a dime” to current or future deficits.
He delivered his first State of the Union address on January 27, 2010, a year and a week after taking office. It was only at the end of that 70-minute speech that he came to his main message:
“Let’s seize this moment to start anew,” he declared.
“We don’t quit,” he said of America. “I don’t quit,” he asserted for himself. He got to sign his health care bill into law less than two months later, on March 23, 2010.
Mr. Obama was invited to deliver his second State of the Union address on January 25, 2011. He used the speech to call for more U.S. innovation and competitiveness as a way to grow the economy, promote exports and create jobs. It was that night that many members of Congress arranged to sit next to members of the opposite political party, in a symbolic move toward bipartisanship. It didn’t last.
In between his second and third State of the Union speeches, President Obama returned to address Congress again on September 8, 2011, to further discuss ways to grow the economy and create jobs. His plan included a call for tax cuts and incentives, subsidies for infrastructure construction, and funding for teacher and first responder jobs.
Five months later, his third State of the Union was a reprise. He used that speech to unveil a blueprint for “An America Built to Last ” It, too, called for economic enhancement through growth of manufacturing, the energy sector, worker skills and American values.
He delivered his fourth State of the Union on February 12, 2013. It was on that day that North Korea conducted a nuclear test explosion. The president issued a statement at 1:50 a.m. denouncing the North Korean action as “highly provocative and a threat to U.S. national security.” His speech that night was a laundry list of proposals including immigration, gun control and a call to raise the national minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.
His most recent appearance before a joint session was January 28, 2014, his fifth State of the Union address. He said it could be “a breakthrough year for America.”
“After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.”
But he said not much would be accomplished unless the “rancorous” arguments over the proper size and function of government were brought to an end. They were not.
So now, President Obama prepares to deliver his sixth State of the Union. For the first time, he faces a Congress in which both chambers have Republican majorities.
He has been previewing his proposals since the start of the year all designed to show he intends to press his agenda, despite a Congress in the control of the opposition.
He wants his speech to keep him relevant and engaged and avoid the appellation every president comes to detest in their final years: “lame duck.”