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State of the 'yawn' ...Posted Thursday, January 27, 2011, at 9:07 AM
I quit listening to the State of the Union Speech four to six years ago. It has nothing to do with who the President is or was. Rather, it has to do with what the speech is.
The U.S. Constitution states that, from time to time, the President must address Congress on the state of the union. By tradition, this is once per year.
In the first decades of our country, this speech was extremely short. In fact, it wasn't always even given as a speech, but as a written memorandum. How I sometimes long for the days of yore.
Let's be honest. While the Presidency is the most powerful office a single person can hold in our nation, our founders wisely restricted the powers of that office quite severely. Unlike kings, or any other executive authority in history, the President is not vested by the Constitution with law making powers. That means, in theory, while the President can urge the legislature to do the things he envisions, he has no authority to make it happen.
The State of the "yawn," er, Union, speech is just a piece of political propaganda.
This has nothing to do with who the current, or any past, President is. It is just the nature of the office and how this Constitutionally required address has evolved.
Certainly the Congress has delegated its law making powers to administrative agencies that are, in effect, controlled by the President. All of the alphabet soup agencies that Americans generally love to hate are administrative agencies created by Congress, put under the authority of the President, to regulate certain specific things. This was, and is, a complete and utter abrogation of the Constitutional separation of powers. It was, and is, done to avoid "checks and balances" as well as accountability to the voters. Nevertheless, any rule (law) passed by these agencies can be nullified by Congress. Moreover, any or all of those alphabet soup agencies can be nullified by Congress.
Our current President, whether you agree with him or not, is smarter than average. Smart Presidents use the State of the "yawn" (oh dear me) Union speech as a political opportunity to shape their image for coming elections. This generally means some blend of pandering to their base and saying things that the majority of likely voters want to hear.
Why wouldn't any President use the speech for exactly that purpose? No matter what happens, the President will undoubtedly blame Congress for each and every thing that the voting public is unhappy with. That, after all, is one of the most treasured and enduring of American political traditions.
By most reports, Tuesday's State of the Union speech was successful. A solid majority of Americans approved of what the President said.
As for me, I prefer to follow the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin advised believing nothing that you hear and only half of what you see. In my observation, the words of a politician are virtually meaningless. (Ouch! Did I hear someone say: "Takes one to know one!?") Still, I doubt if anyone can truly argue that what really matters is actions, not words.
Rather than listening to the speech, I will be watching what happens during the next two years. To me, that is much more important.
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