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The State Of The Union Is ... 'Free And Restless'?

Presidents often characterize the state of the union as "strong." Last year, in fact, President Obama remarked: "It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong."

It seems whatever the crisis du jour is, the State of the Union address is a chance for the president to sneak in some optimism. In 2012, as the economy limped back, Obama still found occasion for the s-word: "The state of our union is getting stronger. And we've come too far to turn back now."

And in 2002, months after the September 11 attacks, President Bush laid out his challenges: "As we gather tonight, our nation is at war, our economy is in recession and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers. Yet the state of our union has never been stronger."

But presidents haven't always opted for such assurance. In 1975, President Ford broke convention as he stood before Congress: "I must say to you that the state of the union is not good."

Ford continued, "Millions of Americans are out of work. Recession and inflation are eroding the money of millions more. Prices are too high, and sales are too slow."

Obama seems to like "strong," so he'll likely use it again — or maybe he'll take a page out of President Clinton's perhaps overconfident 2000 address: "The state of our union is the strongest it has ever been."

In any case, it's almost certain that Obama's 2015 address won't put Congress on quite the pedestal that President Wilson did in 1913, saying, "Surely it is a proper and pertinent part of my report on the state of the union to express my admiration for the diligence, the good temper and the full comprehension of public duty which has already been manifested by both the houses."

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Amita Kelly is a Washington editor, where she works across beats and platforms to edit election, politics and policy news and features stories.