Knowing this is all "show and tell", my students are being asked to think why the Framers thought it necessary to have such an event, and why they chose to mandate it in a Constitutional provision. After John Adams, no president until Woodrow Wilson actually took the time to personally present the address to a joint session of Congress. Since Wilson, every president has and (short of seeking a declaration of war) the SOTU has become the "big speech" of the year presented via the electronic media - first radio, then television and now the Internet and social media.
Yet, voices are again being raised arguing that the annual presidential speech is nothing more than a "made for television pep rally" (see George Will's recent article entitled "A State of the Union Circus."). Since radio ushered in the modern tradition of presenting the speech to Congress and the nation (well before television), I'll give Mr. Will a pass. But his additional comments quoting Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts saying the Court is forced to sit through the speech surrounded "by one branch of government standing up, literally...cheering and hollering...is very troubling." Really? Aren't the members of the Supreme Court there because they were nominated by a President and then confirmed by the Senate? Will makes it sound like the poor Justices have somehow been forced to circle its wagons because a hostile Congress is somehow making them uneasy with its menacing behavior. Perhaps Mr. Will should recall Justice Alito's now famous shaking of his disapproving head when Obama mentioned the disastereous effects of the Supreme Court's decision we know as Citizens United v. FEC? Will seems to believe the independent nature of the Supreme Court is somehow threatened when they attend the annual SOTU. In all of the years I have watched the SOTU, I have never had the slightest impression that members of the Supreme Court were under duress during their attendance.
My point is simple. Since George Washington, presidents have been afforded platforms to outline their concerns, objectives and "wish lists" for further American action. Although the Framers could never have imagined a world with instant electronic communication, they certainly thought it best for the Leader of the United States to have at least one opportunity to communicate with Congress and the World what their views, objectives and desires were for this Country we all love. Take it or leave it, the SOTU is a Constitutional requirement, and every American should observe what our president says and how our leaders react to the speech (and less upon pundits on the airwaves and the print media like Will). As President Wilson once wrote; "My dream of politics all my life has been that it is the common business, that it is something we owe to each other to understand and discuss with absolute frankness." It sure is difficult to expect Americans to listen to any president's SOTU Address if pundits have preordained the lack of value such messages have. Perhaps it's high time we stop listening to self-fulfilling pundits and instead begin to listen to the messages presented by our leaders and think for ourselves. Have a great week!