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Old Is New Again in History’s Big Speech

Tom Williams/Roll Call

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Potential conflicts:

2011: OMG, is SOTU just too boring? The CW Network is airing a new episode of the teen-cheerleader drama “Hellcats.”
2010: First, the rabid fans of ABC’s “Lost” worried that they would have to skip the prez for their favorite band of castaways. Then “American Idol” looked as if it might compete with SOTU. In the end, the White House rescheduled, avoiding “Lost”; “AI” got bumped.
From the archives: Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) reportedly has stayed home for every SOTU since he came to Congress in 1974, preferring to watch it on TV (hey, his seat is probably comfier and the dress code way less strict). He said he planned to attend this year for the first time.

Unemployment rate:

2011: 9.1 percent
2010: 9.7 percent
From the archives: The unemployment rate was an enviable 1.2 percent in 1944, when President Franklin Roosevelt addressed Congress.

Laugh line:

2011: “The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in salt water. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.” Ba-dum-bum.
2010: Obama yuks that the bank bailout bill was “about as popular as a root canal.”
From the archives: In 1986, President Ronald Reagan appeals to “America’s younger generation” by quoting from the flick “Back to the Future”: “Where we are going, we don’t need roads.” Well played, Mr. President.

Rebuttal drama:

2011: Second fiddle? New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie turned down the honor of giving the GOP’s take. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) filled in.
2010: None. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s response was mercifully gaffe-free.
From the archives: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s performance in 2009 got rotten tomatoes on delivery (comparisons to Howdy Doody abounded) and substance (really, volcano monitoring?).

Notable topic not mentioned:

2011: Gun control
2010: Guantánamo Bay
From the archives: In 2002, President George W. Bush didn’t say one word that had been on everyone else’s lips: “Enron.”

“Designated Survivor” Cabinet member staying home:

2011:
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
2010: Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development
From the archives: Until 1913, all Cabinet members stayed home, as did everyone else; that was the first year a president gave the address orally. President Woodrow Wilson probably had no idea what he had wrought.

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