The state of the union is _______

Published February 2, 2005 7:40PM (EST)

The state of the union is strong -- George W. Bush will tell us so tonight. When Bush speaks, the state of the union is always "strong." It was "strong" when he spoke to a joint session of Congress just after 9/11; it had "never been stronger" when he spoke in 2002; it was "strong" again in 2003; and last year it managed to be both "confident and strong."

Bill Clinton was fond of a "strong" union, too. In 1994, Clinton said that the state of the union was "growing stronger" but needed to be "stronger still." In 1995, he said it was "stronger than it was two years ago." In 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999, it was "strong." And in 2000, it was "the strongest it has ever been."

George H.W. Bush, of all people, preferred to get a little metaphysical about the state of the union. In 1991, he said the "state of the union is the union of each of us." His predecessor, Ronald Reagan, was a man of more certain progress. In 1982, Reagan promised that the state of the union would be "better" in the "near future." In 1983, he said the state of the union was "strong, but our economy is troubled." In 1984, the union was "much improved." As the years went by, the state of the union got "stronger each day."

Jimmy Carter's union was "sound" in 1978 and "sound again" in 1981, but in the middle there Carter warned that the "state of the union depends on the state of the world." That might have been a little equivocal, but it was a whole lot cheerier than Gerald Ford's 1975 pronouncement: "The state of the union is not good."

Now it's your turn. We can't all be Michael Gerson, writing with all those hymn book flourishes about wonder-working power and angels in the whirlwind, but we can all come up with a word or two to describe the state of the union. If you were speaking tonight, how would you finish the sentence that begins "The state union is"? Send your words to, and we'll post the best of them tonight.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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