But in a meeting with aides as he prepared for the 1996 address, Mr. Clinton was the one repeatedly expressing frustration about having to appease the many interests who were pushing for a mention.
“That’s what’s the matter with the State of the Union address,” he said at one point in a newly released transcript of the meeting. “That’s why people don’t listen to them, because you’ve to push every damn little button.”
“Somebody ought to give a five-minute State of the Union,” he added, prompting laughter in the room. “Really, this is crazy. It’s too damn long.”
At another point in the meeting, as Mr. Clinton and his aides deliberated whether to name specific Eastern European countries that had become partners with the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union, Mr. Clinton reminisced about his State of the State speeches in Arkansas.
“You know, the governor of Arkansas used to have to give two inaugural speeches, one in the chamber of the legislature and then one on the steps of the Capitol,” Mr. Clinton said.
“That’s what we ought to do with the State of the Union,” he continued. “We ought to be able to go up there in the afternoon and talk for three hours and 15 minutes and mention every interest group” and then “go back at night and speak for 15 minutes and tell the country what you want to say.”
After a round of laughter, Mr. Gore chimed in: “Well, these countries don’t have that many electoral votes.”
Mr. Clinton’s State of the Union speech that year turned out to be the least wordy of his tenure.
The central message of the speech, Mr. Begala wrote, should be “We, the people.”
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