When did the State of the Union address become Washington's version of the Oscars?
Decoder knows that the president does not stand before a joint session
of Congress and hand out statues honoring "Best Appropriation in a
But the State of the Union message is in the
Constitution, for goodness' sake. The Founding Fathers themselves
thought it a good idea for the chief executive periodically to brief
lawmakers on the nation's needs. And what we get now, as much as
substance, is ceremony: the walk down the aisle, the scripted applause,
and recognition of heroes in the balcony.
"A relatively serious
moment in American governance has become a bilateral infomercial," says
Lewis Gould, professor emeritus of history at the University of Texas,
This is not about President Obama – or President Bush or
any individual chief executive. It's about a trend that began in 1913,
when Woodrow Wilson opted to give the address in person.
America's first 125 years, it turns out, the State of the Union address
was a written document. The Constitution (Article II, Section 3) says
only that the president shall periodically "give" to Congress info on
the SOTU and recommend measures judged "necessary and expedient."
There's nothing in there about pretending to enjoy shaking hands with lawmakers while trudging toward the well of the House.