Tonight President Bush delivers his State of the Union speech to Congress. State of the Union speeches are increasingly the only time we get to see presidents live, and that may lead to the extreme crabbiness about the speech Ed Brayton shows over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. It’s a Constitution-required exercise (Article II, section 3), though the prime-time television broadcast and other pomp and ceremony are not mentioned.
Section 3. He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers; he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States.
In our history as a republic, presidents have done everything from just sending the details in a letter to Congress to the current pageant. My recollection is that Richard Nixon gave the first prime-time speech — before that the speeches were given during the business day, and not broadcast live — and that Ronald Reagan was the first president to give all of his SOTUs in the evening. (I’m very willing to correct that information if you have better details.)
And while they have occasionally made history, such as Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 SOTU (the “four freedoms”), my fondness for the events is mostly personal. Read the rest of this entry »