7 things you didn't know you didn't know about the State of the Union
January 28th, 2014
06:00 AM ET
8 years ago

7 things you didn't know you didn't know about the State of the Union

Washington (CNN) – If you tune in to CNN’s coverage of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, you’ll find plenty of intelligent reporting, insightful analysis, and a robust and thoughtful discussion of the most important issues facing our nation.

You won't find any of that here. But where else will you find the answers to burning questions such as, “What color necktie did Obama wear in 2011?” and “What the heck is that thing in front of John Boehner?”

[twitter-follow screen_name='politicalticker'][twitter-follow screen_name='robyoon']

1. Was Obama’s tie in his 2011 State of the Union address blue or purple?

I am mildly color-blind. So naturally that makes me qualified to maintain CNN’s official record of what color necktie the President wears at each State of the Union address. Some are easier to peg than others, but never in all my years as a journalist covering presidential neckwear has a President’s sartorial choice stirred more fervent debate than his 2011 State of the Union necktie. It looked blue to me, but since I have a little trouble along the blue-purple spectrum, I decided to consult some of my supposedly “color-sighted” colleagues. Very quickly, I realized there are two kinds of people in this world: blue tie people and purple tie people.

The results of my research:

Eric Weisbrod, CNN Digital producer: “I would say the 2011 tie is purple”

Dan Merica, CNN associate producer: “I vote blue. Light blue, but blue”

Lisa Desjardins, CNN Congressional reporter: “On a split decision, I lean purple”

Alan Silverleib, CNN political producer: Blue. “The whole notion of a president intentionally wearing a purple necktie to a State of the Union address is madness. Total madness”

Mike Roselli, CNN senior producer: “Pantone Color 2718 – #5B77CC”

Claire Brinberg, ABC News senior producer: “It’s obviously periwinkle. What’s wrong with you?!”

Michelle Jaconi, CNN executive producer: “Blue. Royal blue”

Carey Bodenheimer, CNN senior editor: “Cornflower blue”

Wolf Blitzer, CNN anchor: “It looks like he is wearing a purple tie, Candy Crowley. Is that purple or am I a little color-blind?”

Candy Crowley, CNN anchor and chief political correspondent: “I'm going with lavender. I'm not sure why we're talking about it.” A few years later upon closer inspection: “Absolutely positively cornflower blue”

New York Magazine: Purple

Politico: “…Obama ended up wearing a solid blue tie.”

Esquire: “It was purple (or if you want to get technical about it, lavender)”

Take a look at these photos from the 2011 State of the Union and decide for yourself. Blue or purple?

Getty Images

Getty Images

Leave a comment below or tweet me at @robyoon.

The bottom line: I’m not as color-blind as I thought I was.

2. Is this Obama’s fifth or sixth State of the Union address?

Technically, Obama’s speech Tuesday will be his fifth State of the Union, his sixth “annual message,” and his eighth address before a joint session of Congress. For the past 45 years, a new President has not called his first address to Congress in his first year in office a “State of the Union.”

What we now know as “The State of the Union” did not officially get that name until Harry Truman took office. It was informally and unofficially referred to as “The State of the Union” under Franklin Roosevelt, and before that it was simply “the President’s Annual Message to Congress.”

3. What is that thing in front of John Boehner?

No matter what Obama actually says in his State of the Union address, what most speech-watchers will want to know before, during, and afterwards is: “What the heck is that silver thing in front of Speaker of the House John Boehner?”


In the dark days before Twitter, people had little choice but to ponder that question in confused isolation. But now, thanks to social media, emboldened Americans have come out of the shadows, demanding answers. A sampling of tweets going back to the Speaker Nancy Pelosi days:

And my personal favorite:

But give credit to Joe Burling of Minneapolis who tweeted this:

Indeed, it is, Joe. It’s a silver inkstand, and it’s believed to date back to about 1819, making it the oldest artifact in the House of Representatives. No one knows when it first arrived in the House, but it appears in an 1821 painting of former Speaker Henry Clay. Over the years, House speakers have placed it on the rostrum on opening day of new House sessions and also during presidential addresses to Congress.

In short, this inkstand has been photo-bombing State of the Union addresses since before you were born. Sort of like that National Geographic squirrel from a few years back. And, as far as we can tell, it does not control the weather.

4. Where’s Alito?

Justice Samuel Alito, who joined the Supreme Court in 2006, attended five consecutive State of the Union addresses/“annual messages” from 2006 thru 2010. In his 2010 speech, Obama said a recent Supreme Court decision “will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

Alito was seen in the audience shaking his head and saying, “Not true.” He hasn’t been back to a State of the Union since.

Getty Images

Getty Images

5. What does the address have in common with Altoids?

The state of our union is, not unlike an Altoid breath mint, strong. Some might even say “curiously strong.”

Starting in 1994, 18 consecutive State of the Union addresses have included a declaration that the state of the union is some variation of the word “strong.” Before that, Presidents George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson have all used the “strong” terminology, though not in every speech. Johnson was the first president to use “strong” language in 1968, when he said, “the state of the union will be much stronger eight years from now on our 200th birthday if we resolve to reach these goals.”

Presidents Carter, Ford, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman, and Franklin Roosevelt never used the word "strong" to describe the state of the union. In fact, Ford painted a pretty bleak picture in the wake of Watergate in 1975, when he said “the state of the union is not good.”

Obama called it “stronger” in 2012 and 2013, though he didn’t specify stronger than what. Stronger than Popeye?

If he meant stronger than the previous year, that’s pretty darned strong, because in 2010 and 2011, he already said the state of the union was “strong.” That would mean 2012 and 2013 were “stronger than strong.” Maybe that’s what he’ll say this year.

6. Now that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is giving the GOP response, how soon should she start measuring for drapes in the Oval Office?

Being the sole face of your party’s response to the President’s State of the Union address can be a great way to get exposure to a national audience, but history shows that it’s a pretty lousy springboard to the White House itself.

Since the practice began in 1966, no man or woman who has delivered a solo response to the State of the Union has ever gone on to become President. Only one has gone on to become his party’s presidential nominee: Bob Dole.

However, three future presidents have been part of a group response: Bill Clinton in 1985, George H.W. Bush in 1968, and Gerald Ford from 1966-68. Two future vice presidents, Joe Biden and Al Gore, have also participated in large group responses.

Of course, this is America, and there’s nothing stopping Rodgers or recent speech-givers like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, or Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana from running and ultimately winning the White House in 2016. But if history is any guide, they might improve their odds by joining forces and giving a group response instead.

7. Who is the Cal Ripken of Supreme Court State of the Union attendance?

Justice Stephen Breyer has the longest uninterrupted streak of State of the Union/“annual message” attendance of any current justice. He has attended every speech since 2001. If he attends on Tuesday night, he will have attended an impressive 19 out of 20 annual addresses since joining the Court in 1994.

Getty Images

Getty Images

It is unclear whether anyone thinks of Cal Ripken Jr., as the “Stephen Breyer” of the Baltimore Orioles.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    Obama said a recent Supreme Court decision “will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”
    Proven to be TRUE!!!!

    January 28, 2014 08:14 am at 8:14 am |
  2. Rick McDaniel

    This will be nothing but a speech of demands by a dictator. Nothing more.

    January 28, 2014 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    Rick McDaniel
    This will be nothing but a speech of demands by a dictator. Nothing more.
    I wish he would act like a dictator. This Do-Nothing Congress and their obstructionist ways are a threat to our democracy and the President should use his executive powers to act where Congress won't. No more Mr. Nice guy!!!

    January 28, 2014 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  4. Lizzie

    Dutch/ ..... You had no problem President Obama accepting campaign contributions from the Palestinian PLO

    January 28, 2014 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  5. rs

    Did you know? Mr. Obama is the only sitting President interupted or heckled by the opposition? No other President has been the subject of such irrational hatred from the Right. Even on these blog posts look at Rick- case in point.

    January 28, 2014 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  6. rs


    Dutch/ ..... You had no problem President Obama accepting campaign contributions from the Palestinian PLO
    As opposed to the Spanish PLO? The Syrian PLO? The Egyptian PLO? I have a bigger problem with the politicians bought and paid for by the Koch Brothers.

    Want to start a poor to see which GOP troll in the House interupts the President tonight?

    January 28, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  7. Rudy NYC

    Obama said a recent Supreme Court decision “will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”
    The avalanche has only just begun. Plutocracy is wiping out our democracy. Since corporations are "people", who have been given the "right of free speech" through money, I wonder how long will take before these "corporate people" start demanding the right to vote. And should they be granted the right to vote, how many votes should each "corporate person" get?

    January 28, 2014 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  8. amber

    In the end...State of the Union addresses aren't that memorable.

    January 28, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  9. CryBabies

    Silly article.

    January 28, 2014 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  10. Michael

    Seriously... You put the Cal Ripken, Jr. reference in this piece for the benefit of your sister.

    January 28, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  11. Jabbadahut

    Well....that's 20mins of my life that I won't get back.

    January 28, 2014 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  12. J

    Who cares what color his tie was? He is the worst president in my life time!! I was born when Nixon was still in office "hint hint"

    January 28, 2014 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  13. gts58

    Obama glib speeches no longer work – the people are on to him – he has no credibility – he lies constantly – he has been lying since he was a small child – even his old Choom Gang buddies described him as a liar and a fraud!
    Basically – he has not changed – still a petulant child used to getting his own way!

    January 28, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  14. gts58

    Obama is a fraud and a liar – he has no credibility and will go down as the worst POTUS in history!

    January 28, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |