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State of the Union address: best and worst in history

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My picks for the worst and best personal results from a State of the Union message go to Grover Cleveland and Bill Clinton.

The worst outcome goes to Cleveland’s 1887 message, which, in those days was not delivered in person, but sent to Congress in writing. Instead of the usual list of administrative details, Cleveland used his message to outline plans for massive tariff reform. This plan so surprised and upset members of his Democratic Party that they split, leading to Cleveland’s defeat in 1888.

The finest personal hour for a State of the Union Address had nothing to do with the content of the speech, and everything to do with the circumstances surrounding the address and the public perception of the president’s performance.

On Jan. 19, 1999, on the very day that President Bill Clinton’s attorney opened the president’s impeachment defense in the Senate, Clinton came before Congress and delivered a cool and collected hour-long speech that made no mention whatsoever of his impeachment trial then dominating the news.

The goal of his speech and his performance was to demonstrate to the nation that despite his impeachment, he was still president and still conducting the nation’s business. Republicans and Democrats alike were impressed with this performance under extreme pressure.

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