The 2008 State of the Union - Why We Should Still Care

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Bush has a unique opportunity to make himself relevant again with a strong SOTU. One of the nation's leading experts in political rhetoric explains what he needs to do to make it a success.

There have been few ducks as lame as George W. Bush. In the last year of his presidency, the war in Iraq is still exceedingly unpopular. The economy, in the eyes of many, is about to tank. The Republican nominees are in a race to see who can run farther away from his policies - his name isn't even mentioned, and most American's political attention is riveted on the 2008 presidential race, one of the most exciting in decades.

It's tempting to argue that he is totally irrelevant and that this year's State of the Union which will be given before a joint session of congress next Monday is as perhaps as close to a nonevent as this speech has ever been.

Yet, it is an important speech and experts believe that it can provide Bush with a uniquely valuable platform to make this last year productive.

Historically, late term presidents are focused on burnishing their legacy. Bush's challenge goes beyond this imperative. He must make himself relevant. Can a speech do that? "If it's the State of the Union, it can," says LeeAundra Temescu, a nationally recognized public speaking coach who studies political rhetoric. "The State of the Union is a constitutionally mandated, nationally televised event. The speech itself has enormous power if it's leveraged correctly."

So what does Bush need to do to make this address a success?

According to Temescu, "First, he can take advantage of the fact that very few of the presidential candidates are talking about the number one thing on American minds today - the economy. A strong, focused, well-developed section on his fiscal stimulus policy can immediately shift attention from the candidates and Tsunami Tuesday back to Washington."

Second, he can make an extra effort to appear bi-partisan. Temescu argues, "There's an upside to being ignored by your party - you don't need to pander to them any more. Outgoing presidents have traditionally been the standard bearer for their party and as such, even late termers are still motivated to throw red meat to their core. Bush doesn't have to and can build some good will by reaching across the aisle in this speech." But Temescu admits, this is a long shot. In spite of his lame duck status, Bush has been remarkably effective in blocking most of the Democrat's efforts to push through their agenda. "That's one area where he is still very relevant."

Finally, he can inject some passion into the address. Much has been made of Bush's oratorical failings but he can be good. His SOTU's have been competently delivered but nothing more. Barak Obama has vividly demonstrated what powerful delivery and inspirational language can do. Bush should make one last effort to hit this one out of the park. Temescu believes "If he can convince the American public that he cares about this speech and what it says, it'll that be that much harder to dismiss him as immaterial."

LeeAundra Temescu
The Contrary Public Speaker


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