State of the Union has gotten out of hand

Robert Traynam
Robert Traynam

As State of the Union’s go, President’s Obama’s a few days ago was pretty good. He was able to deliver a speech that was visionary, nonpartisan and seemingly optimistic.

The president was short on details and did not offer any specifics as to how he would cure a lot of America’s long term problems such as the mounting debt, the quagmire that we still face in the Middle East in Iran, Afghanistan and Egypt and also the jobless recovery that we’re currently experiencing.

According to recent polling, nearly 70 percent of Americans are pessimistic about the future of our country and while it’s great to give a speech that’s inspirational, it appears more American’s are seeking deeds, not words.

President Obama should not be blamed for his State of the Union address being all rhetoric and no specifics, for he is relying on precedence. The State of the Union “speech” actually did not start off as such. The Constitution only states that the president will address the Congress from time to time to give an update on the State of the Union.

Prior to Woodrow Wilson’s State of the Union, the update was a letter from the President to the Congress and was read aloud in the House Chamber. Harry Truman took it one step further by not only going to Congress to address the country, but he also invited the television cameras as well. Lyndon Johnson took it one step further, by asking to address the Congress in primetime. And that’s when it all began. Once the speech entered prime time, guaranteeing the reach of millions of Americans on both coasts, the speech took on a poetic story line of it’s own.

Not all of this is bad, since the logical thought is that president’s were and are just changing with the times and speaking to American’s the way they want to be spoken to on issues of importance. Ronald Reagan, our first president with an acting background, brought flare to the State of the Union by introducing us to the heroes in the balcony, which has now become a State of the Union staple.

Lenny Skutnick, a government worker selflessly dived into the Potomac River on a freezing day, just like today after a plane crashed into the river. Skutnick saved a woman from the crash and for freezing to death in the water. When Reagan heard of, he instantly invited Skutnick to the State of the Union and praised him in a speech that highlighted heoric work and inspired the nation.

With the culmination of the speech moving from a letter, to a speech, to television, to prime time, to heroes in the balcony, the speech has tuned into part theater and drama. When you now add in the partisan bickering between democrats and republicans, the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and a pessimistic electorate, you have the recipe for what we have today: a president resigned to give a national address to the country that is light on specifics, but heavy on the optimism for fear of turning off the electorate anymore than it already has.

This is not what the country’s founders envisioned when they mandated that the president do this years ago. What they wanted, was a fact-based description as to how we, as a union, were doing and the president’s specific remedy to fix any problems and the Congress’ alternative to any solution. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune)


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