Nothing New under the Capitol Dome

by John J. Pitney Jr.

If you think you’ve heard it all before — you have. It is tough to be original in a State of the Union address. A speech that covers most major issues — and not a few minor ones — is inevitably going to go over well-plowed ground.

In some cases, Richard Nixon was at the plow. To help the unemployed, President Obama proposed a new national plan “to match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.” That idea probably struck many viewers as a good idea. And it probably got a similar reaction back on August 8, 1969, when Nixon proposed the same thing. Cut red tape so that we can produce more natural gas? That was also Nixon, on April 18, 1973. Should women get “equal pay for equal work”? Yep, Nixon said so on April 28, 1972. President Obama hoped that 2014 would be a “breakthrough year” — which is what Nixon said of 1972.

The problem of repetition is particularly severe for a second-term president. Just about every topic in the speech is something that the administration dealt with in the first term. And the policy rationales are pretty much the same, too. So when President Obama spoke of “millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments,” he was describing how people heard the speech that he was giving.

— John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.