The most memorable State of the Union moments

at 03:47 PM ET, 01/24/2012

The State of the Union is tonight (of course). Over the past 222 years of speeches, there have been lots of great moments. Here are the most memorable ones captured on video.

* Alito’s “Not true”

— In 2010, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito mouthed his dissent as President Obama critiqued the Citizens United decision. A few months later, he said it was awkward to sit at “very political events” like the “proverbial potted plant.” The next year, Alito did not attend.

* “The era of big government is over”

President Clinton’s 1996 attempt to reach out to Republicans became one of the most famous lines in politics — not necessarily to future Democrats’ benefit when they tried to push for more government spending.

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* The axis of evil

President George W. Bush created the “axis of evil” — Iraq, Iran and North Korea — in the 2002 State of the Union, as part of his case for going to war against Iraq by rhetorically tying the country to the Nazis of World War II.

* Lenny Skutnik recognized

In 1982, President Reagan began the tradition of recognizing “ordinary” Americans during the State of the Union — in this case Lenny Skutnik, a Congressional Budget Office employee who jumped into the Potomac to help rescue survivors of the Air Florida Flight 90 crash.

* The War on Poverty

President Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in his 1964 State of the Union, after a landslide victory that gave Democrats a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress. The speech kicked off a legislative push that led to the creation of Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other programs to help the poor.

* Watergate

In his 1974 State of the Union, President Nixon was forced to address the “so-called Watergate affair,” saying he had cooperated with prosecutors and that it was time to end the investigation: “One year of Watergate is enough.” Wishful thinking, as it turns out.

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