The history of the State of the Union is a pretty interesting one for most people who study such things.
The requirement for the President to prepare and deliver his views of the country are contained in the Constitution,
“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.”
Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution
It is not required for the President to deliver the message in person. George Washington delivered his in a speech format but Thomas Jefferson was afraid that delivering the speech in this manner was too imperious and reminded him of a monarchial behavior. The following Presidents must have agreed since it was not until Woodrow Wilson that the practice of personally delivering it returned. Since that time, the SOTU has been used to not only report on the State but also of the proposed legislative agenda that each President wants to put forward.
While recent history has the speech delivered in the Congress by the President, there have been exceptions. The last time the message was delivered in writing was in 1981 when Jimmy Carter was the outgoing President. Nothing of significance was reported from that message since it was overshadowed by the Reagan Revolution which was already in its beginning stages.
An interesting side note about Jimmy’s rise to power:
The national news media discovered and promoted Carter, as Lawrence Shoup noted in his 1980 book The Carter Presidency and Beyond:
What Carter had that his opponents did not was the acceptance and support of elite sectors of the mass communications media. It was their favorable coverage of Carter and his campaign that gave him an edge, propelling him rocket-like to the top of the opinion polls. This helped Carter win key primary election victories, enabling him to rise from an obscure public figure to President-elect in the short space of 9 months.
One of the most fascinating State of the Union Speeches was delivered by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Congress on January 11 1944. The country was at war around the globe and FDR’s message was filled with so many indicators of things to come in the future. His progressivism was truly shining through as he talked about taxing unfair profits, our starry eyed relations with Russia and China, and a new bill of rights that he felt Congress should pass in some way or another.
You can read the entire speech here:
The parts that I thought were particularly interesting for this day include his views on his opponents and his post war vision for America. After he and Secretary Hull had attended the famous overseas conferences with the British, Chinese, Russian and other allies, some in the states suspected that Roosevelt was allowing for more liberal attitudes in regards to the USSR’s burning need for security.
I suppose we can give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he really did trust the Russians. Its just very interesting how his words actually ensured that the Russians would feel at ease in occupying so many countries at war’s end in the name of security.
The other part that was of particular interest was this request to Congress:
“Therefore, in order to concentrate all our energies and resources on winning the war, and to maintain a fair and stable economy at home, I recommend that the Congress adopt:
(1) A realistic tax law—which will tax all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate, and reduce the ultimate cost of the war to our sons and daughters. The tax bill now under consideration by the Congress does not begin to meet this test.”
Roosevelt, more than any previous President tried to expand the power of the legislative branch. Many of his early decisions were aimed at getting America out of the tail spin it was in during the great depression. One of the least popular measures taken was in regards to veterans.
“Roosevelt tried to keep his campaign promise by cutting the federal budget, including a reduction in military spending from $752 million in 1932 to $531 million in 1934 and a 40% cuts in spending on veterans’ benefits, removed 500,000 veterans and widows from the pension rolls and reduced benefits for the remainder, as well as cutting the salaries of federal employees and reduced spending on research and education. However, this was soon seen to be a mistake and most benefits were restored or increased by 1934. The benefit cuts also did not last. In June 1933 Roosevelt restored $50 million in pension payments, and Congress added another $46 million more. Veterans groups like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars won their campaign to transform their benefits from payments due in 1945 to immediate cash when Congress overrode the President’s veto and passed the Bonus Act in January 1936.”
Interesting how history repeats itself. A Popular President sweeps into office during a crisis. His regime enacts many laws and rules limiting “Excessive profits”. His understanding of the enemy is littered with rose colored opinions that fall apart as fast as they are celebrated. Growth in foreign powers and threats are ignored in favor of continuing a social program at home.Last but not least, the Office of the President, unhappy with Congress and the Supreme Court overrides their rightful place in the process and dictates with Executive Fiats.
It couldn’t happen again could it?
“On the Dec. 11, 2011 edition of “60 Minutes,” Steve Kroft asked Obama, “What have you accomplished?”
Here’s what Obama took credit for accomplishing:
- “Saving this country from a great depression.”
- “Saving the auto industry.”
- “Putting in place a system in which we’re gonna start lowering health care costs and you’re never gonna go bankrupt because you get sick or somebody in your family gets sick.”
- “Making sure that we have reformed the financial system, so we never again have taxpayer-funded bailouts, and the system is more stable and secure.”
- “Making sure that we’ve got millions of kids out here who are able to go to college because we’ve expanded student loans and made college more affordable.”
- “Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
- “Decimating al Qaeda, including Bin Laden being taken off the field.”
- “Restoring America’s respect around the world.”
But, Obama didn’t stop there.
In light of these achievements, Obama went on to rate his presidency among the top four, with the possible exceptions of Johnson, FDR, and Lincoln:
“The issue here is not gonna be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history. But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do. And we’re gonna keep on at it.””
18 trillion dollars in debt. More than the combined total of all previous administrations. Mr. Obama, please stop working so hard for us. We can’t afford it anymore.
By the way, the 2012 State of the Union is set for January 24
Like many of you, I will be joining my family in front of the TV set so that we can be a part of the American Journey. A new twist was suggested though and perhaps you can find your own version to keep score during the always entertaining speech: