The State Of The Union Spectacle Is Unbecoming


My friends and family describe me as a political junky. In that I follow politics obsessively, they’re right. My idea of living it up on Friday night is reading audit reports and filing open records requests.

But I’ve never felt comfortable with the theater of politics, and theater is what the State of the Union speeches are all about. They’ve become carefully-choreographed performances that don’t so much inform, as was the intent of the Constitution’s mandate for these reports, as provide a high-profile venue partisan politics.

The President makes his way into the House of Representatives, as though he were a rock star and not an elected public servant, and proceeds to lay out his political platform complete with applause lines and camera cut-aways to various members of Congress who communicate their approval or disapproval with their facial expressions.

It’s a big waste of everyone’s time, but it wasn’t always so. While our first two Presidents, Washington and Adams, delivered their annual reports to Congress in the form of a speech President Thomas Jefferson started the tradition of delivering the State of the Union in writing.

Jefferson wrote in a letter to the President of the Senate accompanying his State of the Union address that delivering his address in person was “inconvenient.”

The circumstances under which we find ourselves at this place rendering inconvenient the mode heretofore practiced of making by personal address the first communications between the legislative and executive branches, I have adopted that by message, as used on all subsequent occasions through the session. In doing this I have had principal regard to the convenience of the Legislature, to the economy of their time, to their relief from the embarrassment of immediate answers on subjects not yet fully before them, and to the benefits thence resulting to the public affairs. Trusting that a procedure rounded in these motives will meet their approbation, I beg leave through you, sir, to communicate the inclosed message, with the documents accompanying it, to the honorable the Senate, and pray you to accept for yourself and them the homage of my high respect and consideration.

More to the point, Jefferson believed the State of the Union was far too similar to the traditional “speech from the throne” delivered in monarchies, notably the British monarchy Jefferson had helped America leave behind.

Jefferson’s tradition lasted for more than a century, until Woodrow Wilson began the practice of delivering them in person again. Which brings us to where we are today, with the State of the Union representing the annual high water mark for presidential hype.

In this modern media area, with our President almost omnipresent in our media (you can’t even watch the Super Bowl without seeing him), it would be nice to go back to the written State of the Union address.

But I doubt we’ll ever elect anyone with that sort of principled humility to national office again.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

Related posts

  • SigFan

    Why even bother listening to Obama stand up there and repeat the same meaningless and divisive drivel he has been selling for the last five years? You can pretty much predict what he’ll be saying – more taxes, more spending, evil rich people, evil gun owners, Republicans are heartless, blah, blah, blah. Not to mention his usual condescension and arrogance. No thanks. And FWIW I agree with the idea that ANY president should deliver this in written form and forget all the theatrics and histrionics.

  • ‘Tom Crawford

    Wonder how much “I, Me, Myself” will be in the address….someone count them up, or create a drinking game…I do not plan to watch.

  • LastBestHope

    The SOTU we would hear if Obama took a truth serum pill:

    “I am totally focused upon those who are still hurting in our economy that I said was in recovery, and that my staffers are now carefully insisting is ‘poised on the brink of recovery,’ whatever that means. To ensure we get off the brink of the recovery, and into the actual, you know, recovery part of the recovery, I will propose investments in infrastructure and education and green jobs and winning the future and solar panels and all of the usual stuff. It’s like that red hot Recovery Summer we all enjoyed, even bigger and better.

    I will now re-use a line that was tired by the end of the 2008 campaign, that ‘some say we can’t afford to make these investments. I say we can’t afford to not make these investments.’ Now I will stop to bask in the applause of the remaining House Democrats who voted for the stimulus.”

    “Look, up in those seats over there. A family connected with the Newtown shooting. Surely we can all agree that whatever your view on guns, opposition to my proposals means you don’t care about kindergartners.”

    “Congress must act on my immigration plan that I have not written down. It is really important that we not give the illegal immigrants what they actually say they are seeking — the right to work here and send money back to their families in their own countries, with hopes of perhaps returning someday much wealthier — but to make them become full citizens, as quickly as possible, with instructions on how to vote Democratic in November.”

    “Confirm my cabinet without delay. Chuck Hagel was great in that hearing, wasn’t he?”

    “Partisanship is destroying America’s faith in Washington, and it is the fault of those blasted Republicans.”

    Source: Jim Geraghty @ NRO

  • WOOF

    It’s a trade show.
    Tradesmen, even in competition, are comfortable with each other.
    Like sharks, there is professional courtesy.

  • Stuart

    a.We must create jobs so I’ve proposed a new stimulus package that will do just that
    b.We must be unified in politics and economics if we are to move forward
    c. We cannot be divisive or stubborn if these goals are to be accomplished
    e. This is a land of liberty and equality for all, not just a chosen few.
    f. We must stand together on these principles if we are to continue to be a great nation
    g.If we pull together ,stand our ground and organize to fulfill our founding fathers principles then the good will for the people of the people will come to fruition!
    h. We can not stall,bicker,or throw a wrench in the gears of progress just to cater to the rich few.
    I. We are a diversified country and must respect those diversities without waive ring
    so I’ve proposed a fast track to our immigration problem and I’m counting on Congress to join me in the effort to get this done immediately.
    j. The rights of every individual to love who they may and not be discriminated against is paramount to a healthy democracy and we will achieve this equality. I will instruct Congress of my wishes on this issue to pass a Bill that will give all relationships their rightful place by definition in this great country .

    • LastBestHope

      not fair…you have an advanced copy.
      But it does seem to include every bromide known to the DC dems.

  • nimrod

    I’m not going to watch the State of The Union Speech, and I wouldn’t read it in a written format either. Everyone knows what is going to be said.

  • Neiman

    Why does the GOP show up at all, he openly disrespects them?

  • LastBestHope

    A nation in decline: “Between January 2009 and November 2012 the food stamp program added approximately an average 11,269 recipients per day.”

    ( ) – “Since taking office in 2009, food stamp rolls under President Barack Obama have risen to more than 47 million people in America, exceeding the population of Spain.

    “Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity,” said Obama during his first joint session address to Congress on Feb. 24, 2009.

    When Obama entered office in January 2009 there were 31,939,110 Americans receiving food stamps. As of November 2012—the most recent data available—there were 47,692,896 Americans enrolled, an increase of 49.3 percent.

    According to the 2011 census, Spain had a population of 46,815,916.”

  • borborygmi

    But I doubt we’ll ever elect anyone with that sort of principled humility to national office again… And there you have the problem defined and remedy insinuated in one line. “We” would be the operating word. “We” have developed and used the visual media/technology that will put the visual over substance. THe genie is out of the bottle.

  • borborygmi

    I was watching Abe LIncoln in Illinois with Raymond Massey. He gave the House Divided speech and IMO most likely captured as much as possible the era. You were born about 175 years to late.

  • Spartacus

    Worth watching just because now that he has nothing to lose he might drag “Michelle” out of the closet and expose him as Michael, his tranny wife and announce their divorce so that he can be with his true love Reggie Love.

  • Hannitized, Proofs obsession

    Hypocrite conservatism: Let’s not focus on what was said, let’s focus on how Obama says it. But, but….don’t do the same to Rubio, because he’s our rock star…..who needs to drink water oddly in an awkward way.

    • guest

      Let’s not focus on what obama says, since he’s a habitual liar, and will say anything to fool the fools. Let’s focus on what he actually does.
      Do you need to drink water, as you lap it up from a bowl on the floor?