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8 strangest State of the Union moments in history

President Obama will give his seventh State of the Union address Tuesday night, and while this tradition has led to some predictably cliche moments (see: "the state of the union is strong" in almost every speech in memory), there have been some, um, stranger moments in past speeches.

Take a look back at some of the most unexpected moments in State of the Union history that have caused watchers to do a double-take.

Biden grins and waves, 2014

During the 2014 State of the Union address,
Photo Credit: YouTube / The New York Times

During the 2014 State of the Union address, the vice president and the speaker of the House both sit behind the president while he talks. While it's almost the House speaker's job to look skeptical of the president – current House Speaker John Boehner appears to have nailed alternatively rolling his eyes and being proud to be an American – Vice President Joe Biden is a little more unpredictable.

About 15 minutes into Obama's sixth State of the Union, Biden seemed to catch the eye of somebody he knows in the crowd (since he was in the Senate for 35 years and a master politician, this is not a surprise) and gave trademark Biden finger guns and a huge grin.

Obama's 'Sputnik' moment, 2011

President Obama has been noted for his popularity
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Pool / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Obama has been noted for his popularity with younger Americans, a notoriously hard group to motivate politically, which is why his "Sputnik moment" analogy in the 2011 State of the Union rang particularly hollow.

While repeatedly calling on Americans to "win the future" (never a good idea to have the initials be "WTF," just a heads up), Obama called for more support of science and technology when he said "this is our generation's Sputnik moment."

Sputnik 1 was a Soviet-made satellite that circled the globe in 1957, terrifying many Americans and helping to jump-start the U.S. into the space race. Unfortunately, the event is not very well known to anyone younger than Baby Boomers--especially since it occurred four years before Obama was even born.

Samuel Alito gets involved, 2010

The Supreme Court is invited to the State
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

The Supreme Court is invited to the State of Union, but they are expected to sit quietly and without emotion throughout the speech to affirm their neutral stance on partisan issues. But Justice Samuel Alito made a bold departure from that tradition in 2010 when he mouthed the words "not true" when Obama criticized the Citizens United campaign finance ruling that effectively removed limits on political contributions. The following year, Alito and three other Supreme Court justices skipped the speech altogether.

Bush and the 'Axis of Evil,' 2002

Although it's become an accepted part of our
Photo Credit: Getty Images / AFP / Paul Richards

Although it's become an accepted part of our lexicon, President Bush's 2002 declaration of an "axis of evil" of Iran, Iraq and North Korea surprised many at the time. Coming just four months after the attacks of Sept. 11, Bush said "the United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

In his "axis of evil speech" Bush called North Korea "a regime arming missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens." North Korea's supreme leader at the time, Kim Jong-Il, called the speech "little short of declaring war against the D.P.R.K.," according to Time.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei retaliated by calling Bush "the most-hated Satan in the world" and then-Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan called the speech "stupid."

Bill Clinton's teleprompter malfunction, 1997

While people have joked about President Obama's reliance
Photo Credit: Getty Images / AFP / Paul J. Richards

While people have joked about President Obama's reliance on teleprompters, nobody could ever make those jokes about Bill Clinton when he was in the White House. During the 1997 State of the Union, a last-minute teleprompter malfunction showed the speech without paragraph breaks. Clinton's staff added the paragraph breaks as he walked to the podium (no one has ever accused Clinton of ignoring people as he walked into a room), reportedly finishing just as he began. Although that sounds terrifying, a speech Clinton gave before a joint session of Congress in 1993 saw the wrong speech fed into the teleprompter. causing Clinton instead to ad-lib the entire speech from memory.

'One year of Watergate is enough,' Nixon, 1974

President Richard Nixon was never quite known for
Photo Credit: YouTube / Richard Nixon Foundation

President Richard Nixon was never quite known for his speaking skills or for being particularly good on television, so giving any speech on live TV could not have been easy for him. In 1974, things must have been especially difficult, given that questions were rising about his role in Watergate. The pressure apparently got to him, as Instead of saying "we must replace the discredited present welfare system," he said "we must replace the discredited president ... present." Ouch. Watch it here, and get ready to cringe at 29 minutes in. Later in the speech, he decides to address "the so-called Watergate affair" and he declares "one year of Watergate is enough." Nixon resigned less than eight months later, and since the nation never learned exactly what his role was in Watergate, the scandal has in some ways never ended. At least he never had to give another State of the Union speech again.

Gold in California, Polk, 1848

It's hard to remember life before the Internet,
Photo Credit: Flickr / 20942641@N07

It's hard to remember life before the Internet, but back in the day, the State of the Union was actually a way to deliver news that people legitimately didn't know yet. Gold was first discovered in California in January 1848, but most Americans had not heard the news. On December 5, 1848, President James K. Polk announced the discovery in his final State of the Union address. Talk about going out with a bang.

Jefferson refuses to go to Congress, 1801

The first two presidents delivered the State of

The first two presidents delivered the State of the Union to Congress at the Capitol, in person. But in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson decided he would rather just deliver written remarks to Congress. He said publicly that the whole process reminded him too much of a monarch and that it took up too much of Congress' time. But some historians believe today that Jefferson was motivated more by a fear of public speaking than anything. It should have been a clue that anyone would think Congress' time is that valuable. President Wilson decided to actually deliver the speech in person in 1913, setting the precedent for the next 102 (and counting) years.


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