President Barack Obama is due to give his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Politico‘s Roger Simon had an interesting column on Friday arguing that no one remembers these speeches, and that ultimately they don’t really matter. “Ask yourself if you can remember a single memorable line from a State of the Union address,” Simon writes, before pointing out that many of the lines that echo down through history are from inaugural addresses, not SOTU speeches. But as a friend points out in an email, Simon makes one glaring (and recent) omission, from George W. Bush’s SOTU in 2003. They’re called the “16 words,” and you almost certainly remember them:
The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
FactCheck.org has a good explainer on the history of that line. In July 2003, several months after the speech, former ambassador Joe Wilson published his famous New York Times column explaining why he thought the line was bogus. The day after Wilson published his article, Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer told the media that the information on “yellow cake” had turned out to be “incorrect.” CIA Director George Tenet took the blame for the line later that day: “These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President.” (Later, of course, someone told columnist Bob Novak that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA officer, and Novak printed it.) This all seems like pretty important recent history, and should serve as a reminder that as cynical as the press corps sometimes gets about these speeches, they really do matter. You should watch.