State of the Union score sheet (and drinking game)

The State of the Union Address has, in keeping with all things American, gone all steroidal on us. In what used to be a humble effort to meet  a Constitutional requirement that was once fulfilled with a message from George Washington that was not much longer than this post, we now find an extravaganza with national television coverage, pundits commenting on the reaction of pundits, an official opposition response, its own logo and theme music on the networks, and a host of set pieces (like the First Lady's box filled with notable Americans with heart-warming stories -- this year, that's means heroes and victims of the Tucson shooting.) It's got just enough calculated drama and just as little connection to the day-to-day life of average citizens to actually be a reality show. The only problem is there is not enough drinking. (But we will take care of that shortly.)

In fact, typically, the State of the Union Address is the political equivalent of the Super Bowl: A mid-winter ritual that combines hype, meaninglessness and boredom in equal parts. If only the president's address had good advertisements to liven up the action ... but maybe next year... (I'd love to see the Budweiser Clydesdale's take on health care reform.)

To help alleviate this, as a public service, let me offer the following score sheet. Simply watch (or listen to) the address and score per the instructions. Then see the key below to interpret the speech. The objective is to help determine whether the speech rises to the level of something actually newsworthy (not to mention worthy of the time of the president, his cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the news media and, most important of all, viewing audiences across America.) The scoring approach is simple: the president gets points for actually rising to the potential of the occasion and  has them deducted for pandering, filling time, engaging in empty rhetoric, or worse. The score sheet is broken into several categories corresponding to different dimensions of the speech.


  • Any mention that balancing the budget involves both real spending cuts and real tax increases together, add 5 points.
  • Any mention that responsibility for U.S. competitiveness lies primarily with private citizens and private sector but that government has an essential central role to play, add 5 points.
  • Any mention that he has actually made mistakes during his first two years in office, add 5 points. Enumeration of such mistakes with conclusions as to how he will do better, 1 point each.
  • Listing more than 3 possible mistakes: start deducting 5 points for each. There is such a thing as too much honesty in one of these speeches.
  • Any pandering or overplaying the Tucson tragedy card beyond dignified references to those in the box with his wife, deduct 5 points.
  • Every reference to competitiveness that uses China as a foil and suggests the reason we must grow is to beat them or the way we must grow is to emulate them, deduct 5 points.

Foreign Policy

  • For any mention of materially cutting defense budgets, add 5 points.
  • For any mention of meeting or beating withdrawal deadlines from Afghanistan, add 5 points.
  • For any mention getting tough with either side of the Israeli-Palestinian issue add 2.5 points. Both sides: 5 points. Introduction of any new idea that has not been mentioned in a previous State of the Union, 10 points.
  • For any mention of committing to pass a trade measure, add 1 point. For Korea, Colombia, Panama, the Doha Round and any other (Trans-Pacific Partnership, etc.) all together: 5 points.
  • For any statement offering specific sanctions against China for currency manipulation, IP policies, or unfair trade practices: 5 points.
  • Any reference to North Korean Supreme Leader Kim's sisters Kourtney and Khloe, deduct 5 points. Any implication that our policies in North Korea are actually working in any meaningful way, also deduct 5 points.
  • Failure to claim credit for real progress on Russia with new Start treaty, withdrawal from Iraq, international economic coordination efforts that forestalled global market turmoil, even progress with Iran delaying their nuclear program, also deduct 5 points for each.
  • Failure to acknowledge the precarious nature of the Eurozone and other factors that may threaten global recovery, deduct 5 points.
  • Failure to address the increasingly complicated nature of the terrorist threat, deduct 5 points. Over-playing the 10th anniversary of 9/11: deduct an additional 5 points.

Domestic Policy:

  • For any mention of material cuts to entitlement programs: 5 points.
  • For any mention of supporting broadly the recommendation of the deficit commission: 5 points.
  • For any mention of explanation of difference between spending and investment and any more detailed program for investments in infrastructure: 5 points.
  • For any mention of need to actually increase revenues to help balance the budget (that's tax increases of one sort or another): 5 points.
  • For any serious effort to reduce regulations impeding investment in creating jobs here in the U.S.: 5 points.
  • For every time the president mentions a spending program without mentioning a way to pay for it: deduct 5 points.
  • For every time the president mentions a spending cut under $10 billion as being material or implies the same: deduct 5 points.
  • For every time the president implies that the recovery on Wall Street or the restoration of GDP growth is the same as a recovery for most Americans: deduct 5 points.
  • If the president fails to mention the municipal and state financial crisis and at least one concrete way of dealing with it (like bankruptcy-like provisions for the states), deduct 5 points.
  • If the president talks about strengthening education without any reference to a national curriculum, ending teacher tenure/focusing on merit promotions, using existing technologies to enhance teacher efficiency, or materially raising standards, deduct 5 points.


  • For every mention of every specific idea designed to create jobs: 1 point. (See below. This could be a very high number.)
  • For every mention of every specific idea designed to enhance U.S. competitiveness: 1 point.
  • For every mention of civility: 1 point. (Also see below. Should also be a high number.)
  • For every singling out of a good idea from the Republican side of the house: add 5 points.
  • If he delivers the speech well enough to produce post-speech gushing from MSNBC: 0 points. Post-speech rants from Fox: 0 points. Post-speech gushing from Fox: 10 points. Mid-speech weeping by John Boehner: 10 points.
  • Every time he goads or bashes the opposition in a visible way that undercuts the civility message: deduct 5 points.
  • Every time he glares at Samuel Alito: deduct 5 points.
  • If he announces appointment of non-Chicago resident Rahm Emanuel as Civility Czar: deduct 10 points.


  • Every minute the speech is under 45 minutes, add 1 point.
  • Every minute the speech is over 45 minutes, deduct 1 point.
  • Every joke that produces bi-partisan laughter, add 5 points.
  • Every comment that produces an outburst from an out-of-control Republican House member, add 5 points.
  • Every minute over 2 that it takes him to make his way through the crowd to the podium, deduct 1 point. (Seriously, the only thing distinguishing this entrance from the Academy Awards red carpet is the absence of Ryan Seacrest and Joan Rivers. Inviting either of them to a future State of the Union: add 10 points.)

The scoring key is:
50 points or more:
Rooseveltian (pick your favorite Roosevelt)
40-49 points: Reaganesque (or Truman-esque, you pick)
30-39 points: Kennedy-esque (pick your favorite Kennedy)
20-29 points: Eisenhower-esque (What he lacked in style he made up for in substance)
10-19 points:
Clinton-esque  (I'd rate him higher but I served then...don't want to appear biased)
0-9 points:
Bush 41-esque (He was a better president than his speeches)
-1-10 points: Carter-esque or Ford-esque (In the interest of bi-partisanship)
-11-20 points:
Bush 43-esque (He was not as good as his speeches)
-21-30 points:
Nixonian  (It's complicated...)
-31-40 points: James Buchanan-esque
Below -40 points:
Introducing your next president, Mitt Romney    

If this doesn't work, try the State of the Union drinking game. This year's key word is: civility. Any use of this word, a variant of it, or concepts associated with it, and you take a drink. Any bi-partisan applause, you take a drink. Any breakdowns in civility or displays of partisanship, you take two drinks. I say you're unconscious even before those Americans who pass out due to boredom. However, if you seek an even quicker buzz, switch to the Advanced SOTU Drinking program where you can take a drink every time the words job or any employment related term or concept is mentioned. Don't hesitate to share your colorful drinking game stories.

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf

No one will mess with 'Barry the Beanpole'

Given the events of the past week, it seems appropriate to devote some time to assessing the China-U.S. summit this week. It would be fascinating to explore why it turned out that in the end, the story was not so much how President Obama did, but rather was how President Hu did and how in noticeable strides he has helped elevate China's international game during his tenure in office. This recent meeting was in some respect the culmination of that fitful but striking process.

But it has been a long week. And if one focuses on the serious too long one misses the important … or, more to the point, the unintentionally hilarious. For example, it might not seem even remotely amusing that the U.S. federal government late this week rounded up 127 suspected mobsters. After all, it suggested that the mafia had not in fact gone the way of the Great Auk (extinct since 1844) -- an event which dates either to effective use of RICO statutes by prosecutors beginning in the early 1980s or to the June 10, 2007, airing of the last episode of The Sopranos.

That last episode was so bad, that ending was so ill-conceived and self-indulgent, that it had the effect of completing The Sopranos' ultimate mission in its last years, which was to make mob life seem so petty and boring that we lost interest. But now here comes this week's roundup, and suddenly the life is back. All you had to do was read through the list of names of the guys that got rounded up: Joseph "Jojo" Corozzo, Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello, Richard "Nerves" Fusco, Luigi "Baby Shanks" Manochchio, "Vinny Carwash," "Tony Bagels," "Johnny Pizza," "Lumpy," "The Bull," and "Meatball."

Maybe there is a lesson in this. Maybe if we want to recapture America's interest (and the world's) in foreign policy, maybe all it will take is coming up with colorful nicknames for world leaders. Nicknames that, like those of leading mobsters, tell you all you need to know in a word or two and would make any dull story on policy machinations that much more lively.

Of course, some world leaders that have been in the news this week have such nicknames. There's Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier … but that hardly counts because he is, in fact, a gangster. And there are the nicknames that were revealed through WikiLeaks, like calling Angela Merkel "Teflon" because nothing sticks to her or referring to Dmitry Medvedev as "Robin" to Putin's Batman. But the blandness of these definitions suggests why Foreign Service officers could never cut it in the mob. The same could be said for the former nickname-giver-in-chief George W. Bush who reportedly called Tony Blair "Landslide" and John Howard "Man of Steel" and, tellingly, boldly called Canada's Stephen Harper "Steve." Actually, the same could be said for some of the nicknames that world leaders are actually given. Does calling Robert Mugabe "Comrade Bob" capture any of the evil or festering corruption of the man? I don't think so. And calling Ecuador's Abdalá Bucaram "El Loco" was not much more than truth in advertising.

Frankly, even when the nicknaming is left to comedians like Jimmy Kimmel (who did a riff on potential world leader monikers after the WikiLeaks revelations first appeared), what we get is a little flat: Mahmoud "Scruffy McWindbreaker" Ahmadinejad, David "Johnny Little Lips" Cameron, and Angela "Der Wienerschnitzel" Merkel.

But surely we could press a couple of these mobsters into service, possibly through a plea deal, to revitalize the international scene with grittier, tougher, more Jersey -- credible nicknames. Wouldn't the summit stories have been more interesting if they reported a meeting (ideally at Satriale's pork store) between Barack "Barry the Beanpole" Obama and Hu "Let the Dogs Out" Jintao? Or if the pictures of their various consiglieri included references to Hillary "Mama Pantsuits" Clinton, "Tiny Tim" Geithner, or Yang "Big Dumplings" Jiechi?  

Silvio "Loose Zipper" Berlusconi? Or in a similar vein, Asif Ali "Loose Nukes" Zardari? Given Afghanistan's biggest export and its biggest champion, couldn't we call Hamid Karzai "The Horse Whisperer"? I'd try to come up with a mob nickname for Vladimir Putin, but it's a pretty sure thing he already has one.

OK, maybe I don't have the knack for it either. I haven't lived in New Jersey for a couple of decades. Maybe you can do better. Suggestions are certainly welcome. But it's worth the effort. Because absent these nicknames the mob might just complete its last, long fade to black. And if the bosses of the world start seeing that if political leaders worldwide were sporting the same kind of noms de crime, no self-respecting gangster will ever want to have one again.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images