The Surprise in Tonight’s State of the Union Address

On Tuesday night at 9:00 EST, President Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union address, the first of his second term. Coming just a few weeks on the heels of his soaring Second Inaugural, the speech will likely dial down the rhetoric a notch as Obama outlines his legislative priorities for 2013. Expect less “Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall” and more substantive policy suggestions.  

There has been a lot of speculation about the proposals the president will announce. The New York Times reported with unusual confidence on Sunday that Obama will call for a sharp reduction in nuclear arms; on Monday, the White House spokesman denied any such proposal would be announced in the speech. Most pundits expect to see Obama emphasize ideas for boosting the economy and creating more jobs and commentary seems to be coming on climate change and immigration reform. By all accounts, foreign policy will get less air time.

The most drama and tension in the House chamber will come when President Obama broaches the divisive issue of the moment: gun control. Gabrielle Giffords, the former representative who was shot in Tucson in 2011 and has now become an advocate for weapons restrictions, will be present, along with the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old girl who was shot in Chicago days after returning from Washington, D.C., where she had performed in the marching band at the Inauguration. Friends and relatives of dozens of mass shooting victims from recent massacres will be there as well. On the other side of the debate, the irrepressible musician, Obama hater and NRA board member Ted Nugent will be in the audience, guest of Rep. Steve Stockman. The cameramen will have a lot to handle panning around the chamber to catch reactions from all of these faces.

After the main event ends around 10 pm, viewers will be treated to not one but two responses, as they have in the last two cycles: one from the Republican Party (delivered by GOP darling and likely 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio), another from the Tea Party (presented by libertarian Sen. Rand Paul). Only the president’s message is required by the Constitution, of course: the tradition of rebutting the president’s vision while his words still linger in the air is a modern invention.

I will be live-blogging the address with my colleagues at the Economist; Praxis readers are invited to follow the conversation here. (I'll be the avocado-tinted avatar with the initials S.M.)

In the 2012 address, Obama strung us along for 767 words before declaring "the state of our union is getting stronger." Let the first annual Praxis SOTU contest commence: how will the President fill in the blank this year? Record your guess for tonight's surprise below. Points will be awarded for creativity and wit as well as prescience.

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