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State of the Union addresses are overrated

Every year, media pundits and observers spend weeks previewing the president's State of the Union address, reading tea leaves and looking for leaks about which policy proposals might be included. They spend the hours after the speech analyzing its quality, looking not just for rhetorical flourish, but substantive policy goals. And they spend the next week or so going deeper into policy ideas, especially looking at the potential political implications of each.

And then we all promptly forget about them after a few weeks, when some new crisis demands our attention. Sometimes the promises are prophetic. Other times, whole task forces, proposals and novel ideas have been forgotten almost as soon as they were proposed. Or when the challenges of governing with an obdurate opposition inevitably arise.

In his sixth State of the Union address, emboldened by a balanced budget, President Clinton proposed taking 100 percent of the budget surplus and putting it toward strengthening Social Security. He made it the top priority of his final years in office, saying, “Let us make this commitment: Social Security first.” Of course, nothing came of the plan.

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