Has there ever been a State of the Union address – pardon me, pedants, a joint address of Congress – that felt less important than this one? In large part because of the pandemic, this gathering was delayed to much later in the year. The Biden era has already seen its first big spending bill, its first cabinet-appointee derailment, its first major policy crisis on the border. We’re 100 days into the Biden presidency; there are about 1,300 days left.
For four straight years, we saw Donald Trump put aside his Twitter-raging, erratic, off-the-cuff persona, read a well-crafted script from the teleprompter, saluted great Americans, and sounded presidential. For four straight years, people like me generally liked it. And for four straight years, Trump quickly reverted back to his Twitter-raging, erratic, off-the-cuff persona. The state of the union came and went like a summer thunderstorm. The address had little to no effect on what Trump or the administration did, before or after. It was a brief, two-hour simulation of a normal presidency, before relapsing to the usual circus.
Peter Hamby said earlier today, “America has never cared less about an address to Congress. And that’s a good thing.” Maybe it’s a good thing, but it does raise the question of why we go through this each year. Yes, it’s constitutionally required, which is a good enough reason, but a written address would meet the requirement as well. The State of the Union – er, joint address of Congress — turned into just another political speech, usually twice as long as it needs to be, a laundry list of presidential wishes to Congress. The president’s party leaps out of their seats and applauds whether the president pauses long enough; the opposition party sits on their hands, unless the president’s line is sufficiently bipartisan or patriotic.
And whichever member of the opposition party gives the response to the State of the Union Address gets cursed. Good luck, Tim Scott.
If a president is going to get this kind of attention, on all the major networks in prime-time, he ought to say something new and big and consequential. Don’t just give us rehashed clichés and Whitney Houston-esque, “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.”