Should the SOTU address be something other than a pep rally?

I’ve been watching SOTU addresses since the '70s. Sometimes the POTUS uses the occasion to announce a new policy direction, sometimes not. Otherwise, it always goes pretty much the same. The prez begins with, “The state of the Union is sound,” or words to that effect, speaks a lot of pious patriotic platitudes, and Congresscritters and other officials of both parties periodically applaud.

I do not think this is appropriate. When the Framers put in “[The President] shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” (Article II, Section 3), they cannot have envisioned this kind of meaningless feel-good ritual.

Wouldn’t it be more useful – and more fun to watch – if it were done more like Question Time in the British House of Commons, where the opposition is free to hoot and jeer and boo and laugh at the speaker? Or at least ostentatiously sit on its hands?

And would it not be more appropriate, in some years, for the prez to begin with, “The state of the Union is totally FUBAR,” or words to that effect?

The current SOTUA is being shaped into a media event (aka Pep Rally) by TV news channels, in their search for interesting content. The politicians are more than willing to “ham it up” for the camera.

I imagine that it would be very different if there was little or no coverage (other than newpaper articles) of the speech.

I think when the Founders wrote that, they envisioned a president who wasn’t in near constant contact with Congress. Or at least, they wanted to ensure that they had at least periodic contact with one another. Separation of powers is all well and good, but if the president never even communicated with Congress, or is congress refused to even hear him, things would have fallen apart.

Of course, such an imperative isn’t necessary in this day and age. Congress and the president know very well what each other are doing and thinking, and the glorified election speech that is the SotU isn’t really necessary at all.

Well, what gets me is the spectacle of the Dems standing to applaud the man they spent most of the last year excoriating – as if to rub our faces in the fact that all pols are members of one club, despite the endless intramural color war.

The first two presidents gave the address in person before Congress (obviously, without modern mass-media coverage). Jefferson discontinued the practice, considering it too monarchial, and simply sent written reports to Congress; this became the tradition until Woodrow Wilson delivered the 1913 SOTU in person.

I think Jefferson had the right idea.

We really got the sense last night that much of the shot direction, the cut aways focusing on one senator or another, were all prescripted based on a leaked transcript of the speech. Seemingly as soon as Bush would begin talking of one topic or another, the politician most closely linked to that topic would immediately become the camera focus, apparently to capture their expressions of approval or smirk, depending.

Maybe some director in network control was just very good or maybe it was pre-scripted. It did though seem to suggest the latter.

If I work for a Presidential candidate that wins this cycle, and if I end up having any influence or ear to the new President, proposing a ban on applause during the SoTU address will be my first priority.

That’s true. I think the SOTU address was originally given in written form to Congress. I don’t think the Constitution specifically states how the address has to be done.


Leaked? I think the WH always releases a copy of the speech to the press before hand. Tom Brokaw mentioned last night he was following along on a copy they’d given him while Bush was speaking (and noticed that Bush replaced the written “Democratic Congress” with “Democrat Congress”).

And I like the tradition of the SOTU address. It’s kinda neat to see all of our gov’t under one roof, and while it’s sort of a pep rally, there’s also usually some tension in the room (witness the common occurance of one party clapping some lines while the other stays silent) as well, so it’s not all a boring lovefest.

I agree, although I don’t think it’s within the presidential powers to do so. I do think this would be the most practical solution to the problem, and we’d need is for Congress to institute a “no applause until the end” rule. Then presidents won’t write their speeches to draw out applause, and Congressmen won’t be given the opportunity to grandstand in front of the cameras.

Odds of this happening: Slim to none.

I wondered if that was the case. Didn’t hear mention on our channel but was fairly confident someone here would know. Thanks.