by The Other Katherine Harris
The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Jan. 29, 2008
The annual SOTU ritual is always painful to me, since solemnities in the line of Laudes Regiae are so profoundly un-American. Yes, yes, the prescribed acclamation that accompanies the president’s entry is in tribute to the office, not the individual, but doesn’t it seem berserk to hail any figure whose power derives from the people as if he were an emperor or pope embodying the divine potestas — especially when those who supply his ovation are our representatives, too? Properly interpreted, it’s a vision of us saying, “Yea, Us!” That would be merely silly, but what we get plays as a Congressional obeisance.
Even if we had the benefit of widely beloved leaders duly executing our will to good effect — when a “Yea, Us!” wouldn’t stick in the throat — it would still be hard to endorse a ceremony modeled after the British monarch’s Speech from the Throne, aka Gracious Address, which marks the State Opening of Parliament. Thomas Jefferson thought ill of it, too, and ended the practice. Its sole basis in law (Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution) is one line — He 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 — so Jefferson sent written reports to be read by a clerk, as did his successors for more than a century. Thus, only George Washington and the first John Adams personally delivered such speeches, until Woodrow Wilson swanned onto the stage in 1913. Since then, presidents have gone either way, at times varying presentation mode within their terms of office. Lately it’s become the usual thing to put the final account in writing (as Shrub is expected to do next year), while freshly inaugurated presidents with no SOTU statements to make show up to tout their goals. For anyone not already ejected from the White House, the propaganda value of a televised extravaganza each January is too alluring to resist.
What irks me most about this recurring spectacle is the grandiose protocol that developed around it, reinforcing the illusion of presidential supremacy. One unfamiliar with the tripartite organization of our government and the history of the event — including, sadly, a huge chunk of our populace — would take away from last night’s rites the confused picture of a chief executive of medieval might, to whom all deference is owed and paid by a subservient legislature and judiciary.
The general willingness of Congress to play the role of loyal (or at least cowed) subjects is astonishing, really. They’ve imposed upon themselves demands of decorum so extreme as to seem odious in a democratic republic. The lone exception I recall was a 2006 ovation by Democrats, when Shrub cited the failure of his Social Security privatization scheme.
While I don’t suggest that members of the opposition party should throw tomatoes and rotten eggs — or even indulge in Westminster-style heckling, although it would be fun — surely the nation literally ruined by the man addressing them deserved to see some stronger signs of Democratic displeasure than Obama squirming in his chair and the epilogue of a mild Kansas grandmother pitifully begging Shrub to “join us” as they know he and his thugs never will.
Personally, I wish the Democratic contingent had left Shrub to declaim before a half-empty house and then been shown elsewhere, cheering an impassioned response. But that doesn’t fit with the DLC’s go-along-to-get-along campaign, into which everything Dems do is being forced to fit. Whether the people like it or not.
UPDATE: A superb analysis of the content of Shrub’s speech is HERE. There’s a short video (see below) well worth seeing and the last line on the page is a link (though not underlined) to a 35-page PDF that addresses every single point brilliantly. These folks must have worked their asses off last night and this morning.
Andrea Batista Schlesinger responds to 2008 State of Union
DMI’s Andrea Batista Schlesinger analyzes Bush’s 2008 State of Union address, and says that President Bush’s final State of the Union has failed the American middle class. In a time when virtually all the presidential candidates, regardless of party affiliation, have embraced “change” as a central campaign theme, the President’s 2008 State of the Union offered only more of the same.