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Mr. President, Tweet the State of the Union: Forget About the Useless Pomp of a Speech

January 24, 2019 in Economics

By Gene Healy

Gene Healy

The week-long standoff over the State of the Union address began
Jan. 16, when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called on President
Trump to delay the SOTU or deliver it in writing. For a brief period, you had to
wonder whether Trump would force the issue, gate-crashing the
Capitol, with the Secret Service outgunning the House Sergeant-at-Arms.

Luckily, the dispute ended peaceably, after a rare climbdown by
Trump. “I will do the Address when the Shutdown is
over,” the President tweeted Wednesday evening.

Earlier that day, the Trump had griped: “It would be so very sad for our
country, if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on
schedule, and very importantly, on location!” Actually
it’s no great loss.

Trump describes the prime-time speech from the House chamber as
a “constitutional duty.” But Article II, Section 3, doesn’t designate a
particular place or time, nor even require the message to take the
form of a speech. It just says that the President “shall from
time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the
Union.” Certainly, nothing in the Constitution mandates what
the modern SOTU has become: an imperious sermon befitting an
imperial president, short on “Information,” long on
pomp and circumstance and larded with exorbitant demands on the
public purse.

As Pelosi pointed out in her Jan. 16 letter, a written message is the historical
norm. Of the 221 SOTUs in American history, fewer than half have been delivered in person before
Congress assembled.

True, the “security concerns” Pelosi cited were
bogus. Our third President, Thomas Jefferson,
offered far better reasons for switching to the written SOTU. In
his 1801 letter to the Senate proposing the move,
Jefferson described it as a time-saving measure for “the
convenience of the legislature.” But his principal motivation
was a small-‘r’ republican one: Jefferson thought the
in-person address favored by Washington and Adams “too kingly
for the new republic,” a monarchical “Speech from the
Throne.”

From Jefferson’s first SOTU to William Howard Taft’s
last, the Jeffersonian tradition reigned. It took a
series of imperial Presidents, starting with the norm-busting
Woodrow Wilson, to usher in the modern State of the Union. Harry
Truman gave us hell with the first televised address in 1947. In
1965, Lyndon Johnson moved the speech from mid-afternoon to
prime-time.

Along the way, the President’s annual message became
unmoored from its constitutional purpose.
Information of the State of the Union” is the
key phrase. The early days of the republic featured a part-time
legislature and a full-time chief …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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