January 13

Why a SOTU guest means much more than you think

Every year, Americans look forward to the annual State of the Union address, where the president lays out his vision for the upcoming year, and what he would like Congress to bring to his desk. As this is the last SOTU for President Obama, there will be extra focus on what he has to say for the future, and will be a clue to what he expects his legacy to look like. There are already jokes that with his use of executive orders, the president will be telling Congress what he will be doing, instead of asking what he would like them to do. We can expect there to be a large focus on gun control and climate change: two topics that Obama is desperately trying to push through as he faces his final days in the coveted Oval Office. With so much focus on one night, there is also a focus on who Congress members and the President will invite as guests, filling the hall with people who represent ideas, and serve as a symbol to an idea or movement. With the 2016 election just around the corner, these guests, now more than ever, are especially important. Gone are the days that a representative or the president invite a family member or friend, and now, we have a State of the Union with some heavily charged passive aggression.

President Obama is laying down the electricity first and foremost, as he has decided to keep a seat open in order to symbolize the many Americans who have been effected by gun violence. As this ticket cannot be bought (well, unless you are a lobbyist), there will be special recognition to this empty space. Obama will be pushing gun control, and to make his point, he will hope there are numerous pictures of the empty seat, urging Americans to realize the effects of gun violence in this country.

Then, we have Kim Davis, who will be sitting amongst the joint members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, and the president with his cabinet. If you remember, Davis became the champion for religious liberty, when she refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple in Kentucky. Davis was put in jail, but soon became a household name, and a symbol for the fight of religious freedom. The congressman who invited Davis is unknown, but her presence will surely reignite the religious freedom debate in opposition to gay marriage. It does not stop here, however, because the man she refused to give a marriage license to is also invited. The White House invited Jim Obergefell, to represent their side of the argument. As gay marriage became legal after a Supreme Court ruling, these two attendees are especially important in tonight’s audience, and will spark much controversy and debate in the weeks to come.

In the audience, there will also be a Syrian refugee. We can expect Obama to push for this issue in the next few weeks, as he continues to leave his mark on the American political spectrum.

The guests have proved to be just as an important part of the evening as the president’s speech.