Jim Geraghty explains:
If you said to me, “let’s end the NFL Pro Bowl,” I’d probably disagree. Because while I haven’t watched a Pro Bowl in its entirety in decades, I’d hate to see a tradition end. But as any football fan will acknowledge, the Pro Bowl is a quasi-necessary event that is executed in a fundamentally flawed fashion. For starters, it occurs at the end of the season, instead of at the halfway point of the season like in other sports. This is because of players’ legitimate fear of injury in a game that has only pride on the line; as a result, everybody plays at about half-speed. Selected players decline to go, so you get the second, third, and sometimes fourth-best players at each position. The NFL moved it to the week before the Super Bowl, to make it less of an afterthought to the season, but now the players on teams in the Super Bowl skip the game.
My friends, the president’s State of the Union Address is our national pro bowl — a simulation of the art of persuasion and politics featuring all the big stars, played at about half speed, with no real consequence.
[. . .]
You’ll recall Matt Welch’s discovery from last year about just how interchangeable the rhetoric is:
Starting with John F. Kennedy’s address to a joint session of Congress in 1961, you could take one sentence from each SOTU since, in chronological order, and cobble together a speech that will likely resemble much of what you’ll hear tonight. So that’s precisely what I’ve done.
Every president uses the event as just another speech, and avoids anything resembling a hard-nosed assessment of where they’ve made progress and where they need to improve their performance. What’s fascinating is the ritual news articles about drafts of the speech and previews, as if you or I couldn’t predict a half dozen points and themes. This is why we have State of the Union drinking games — because people can often predict the precise phrases, never mind the topics or arguments.