Why Do We Televise the State of the Union Address?

I am sure many others have asked this question, but I don’t feel like google-ing to find out what others have to say about the topic. So, instead, I will make it painfully obvious that I probably don’t know what I’m talking about by diving into an unsourced, off-the-top-of-my-head type rant. I can get away with this because I am not a professional journalist or blogger (though, my methods seem to be the same as those who are actually paid for their pablum).

I’ve no real idea why it has taken me so long to wonder, but just this morning the thought struck me: in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution, we probably shouldn’t allow Presidents to use the State of the Union Address as some kind of political monologue. After all, the Constitutional purpose of this address is twofold:

  1. to Inform members of Congress about the current state of the nation
  2. to Present to Congress some specific measures the President believes to be necessary.

Please note that the practical nature of these purposes has a sole audience: Congress.

The State of the Union was never meant to be addressed to the nation at large. We have morphed what was intended to be a rational, specific report from the President to Congress into an artificial, generic, dumbed-down form of political theatre.

This is most likely (as with all silly political practices) a modern development. Granted, it has become a tradition, but it is not an old tradition and therefore should be even more subject to examination and change. On that point, I think we take much too much for granted in America. This is especially the case with Civics. Please pardon the language, but Americans seem to have a piss-poor understanding of how our government works and its history. If ignorant internet comments and “Jaywalking” segments from the Tonight Show are any indication of where we are as a nation regarding civics, we are in deep, deep doodoo.

It doesn’t really matter who or what is to blame for the sorry state of our national level of civic understanding. The point is, that most people seem to accept government activities as they are without knowing the history of purpose of those activities. For as long as they have been aware, Government has done this or that, so they don’t stop to question (or understand).

Such seems to be the case with the State of The Union Address. It’s not supposed to be an address to the American people. It’s not supposed to be a vague stump speech full of platitudes and a simplified laundry list of “Hey, isn’t my Administration awesome and aren’t the other party a bunch of dolts?” talking points. Today, the State of the Union Address is crafted by a President’s political speech-writing team. There is just something so Constitutionally illiterate about that. “But it’s the way it’s always been”. No, it’s not… and that is my point.

The fact that people do not understand how off-track our current State of the Union Addresses have gotten is a very minor quibble compared to other fundamental misunderstanding (or outright ignorance) many people seem to have about our system of governance.

But, it gets my goat nonetheless.

For your reading displeasure here is a text of the 2012 State of the Union Address as well as the Republican Response.

If you can tell me how the 2012 SOTU is contructive or useful in any way, shape, or fashion (heck, I’ll even settle for mildly purposeful), I will eat this blog.

By way of contrast, check out George Washington’s first SOTU.

Please note the passages where he talks about documents and information being handed out to the members of Congress. That is what a SOTU should be… a “working meeting” between the Executive and Legislative Branches where a President’s specific suggestions are presented.

And if you don’t agree, then you can eat this blog.

And after you eat the blog, George Washington will stab you with his sabre.

2 thoughts on “Why Do We Televise the State of the Union Address?

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