Part of the theater associated with the State of the Union address lies in the camera capturing the live reactions of a few members of Congress and other attendees. I’m sure several of the Democrats who are facing reelection in 2014 are nervous about how they will comport themselves during the speech if they are caught on camera. If the president sets himself up for an applause line on Obamacare, how will they handle it so that their reaction can’t be used against them in their campaigns back home? Will Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu applaud at all? Will Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) give the president a standing ovation? I assume Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) will show up, but it’s certain she will not maneuver to get an aisle seat so she can shake hands with the president as he makes his way to the podium. I’m sure that if the State of the Union speech was optional, many Democrats would prefer to pass this year. Look for a lot of slumped shoulders and poker faces from vulnerable Democrats as President Obama speaks.
Overall, the president’s speech presents more of a problem than an opportunity for the Democrats. How can the president rally the faithful and reassure the worried candidates who will face voters in less than 11 months? I can’t imagine what the president could say that we haven’t heard before. And if he’s ambitious and lays out a bold agenda for the next year, he’ll be accused of being in denial about how little he has accomplished and delusional about his own capabilities. If he presents a minimalist agenda, it will feed the notion that he and the Democrats are drifting and out of energy.