osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

My sadness over the "State of the Union"

"[The President] shall, from time to time, give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." --United States Const., Article II Sec. 3.

I have a strong love of democratic processes and of history, coupled with a strong sense that our government depends more heavily on legitimacy than most folks believe. In theory, we have three co-equal branches of government. Each acts independently, but in concert and coordination with each other. It pains me to see the pathetic farce that now constitutes the "State of the Union" address.

This provision comes from a set of authors uncertain how to construct a government with a strong executive (as desired by some like Hamilton) with the checks demanded by those leary of executive power (like Franklin). And given the nature of government and of communication in those days, it seemed necessary to provide a mechanism by which the head of the executive branch could brief the rather smaller legislature. If we need a more modern analogy than today's press theatrics, I would liken it to a meeting of the president of a corporation and a board of directors.

It has now become worse than an anachronism shorn of meaning. It has become a stage on which politicians sport cheap theatrical tricks, gesturing to the gallery for this or that brave hero or widow or impoverished farmer or whatever to "put a human face" on whatever policy the President chooses to push. Certainly there is no thought of providing Congress with "information" or proposing for "their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." It is all eyes on the camera, courting the mythical "public" with generalities and absurdities.

The members of Congress, like drunk alumni at a college bowl game, carefully choreograph standing ovations at the proper times. A pity none of them will strip to the waist and paint themselves with appropriate colors while drinking "brewskis" and shouting epithets at one another. That would at least, to borrow from a comic operetta about a useless leader and silly rules, "bring an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise dull and uninteresting tale."

To complete the trivialization of what should be a regular and useful element in maintaining our system of government, we have an entire "pre-game" and "post-game" show. Rather than run the risk that the electorate might judge anything as complex as an entire speech for themselves, pundits and demogogues will provide you with pre-manufactured opinions and talking points. Watch long enough and you will no longer care what people actually said, only how they said it.

It would have more gravitas if we brought Fuki, Ohta, and Doc Hatori out of retirement.

Of course the tragedy is that neither side can stop. As long as the one side (whichever one that is) keeps working these tricks, the other side must respond. Because the universe does not reward virtue and a refusal to play -- unless effective -- is an invitation to get your butt kicked.

This is not to say the situation is hopeless. To the contrary, a President can stop this and transform the State of the Union address into something real again. With enough political pressure, it could happen. But no party or individual member can unilaterally decide not to play.

So what would I do if I were President? I would appear on television soon after my inauguration to inform the American public we are changing the rules and why. I would commit to a speech that takes the place of the "State of the Union," but not before Congress. We would get all the drama and rebuttals and the rest of the dog and pony show out of the way in advance.

Instead, I would inform the Speaker that I wished to address the both Houses in full session for an entire day. It would be a meticulous briefing, conducted by myself and necessary executive officers, with time scheduled for questions between sessions. For the top secret stuff, we would adjourn to have just the select committees from both Houses. I would conclude by providing proposed bills and a proposed budget and asking the Speaker and the Leader of the Senate to enter the items and refer them to the appropriate committees for their consideration.

Alas, I do not look for any such change anytime soon. Rather, I look forward to the annual ritual of hearing a chorus of so-called journalists bemoan how fewer Americans every year take an interest in the State of the Union speech and how this shows that Americans don't care about civic responsibility. Perhaps if the State of the Union address provided some genuine substance, rather than treating the American public like easily decieved children come to watch the magic puppet show, grown ups in our society might again tune in.

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