WASHINGTON -- The increasingly puerile spectacle of presidential State of the Union addresses is indicative of the state of the union, and is unnecessary: The Constitution requires only that the president "shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union." But a reaction may be brewing against these embarrassing events. Speaking in Alabama, Chief Justice John Roberts said "to the extent that" this occasion "has degenerated into a political pep rally," he is "not sure why we're there." He was referring to Supreme Court justices. But why is anyone there?
Roberts was responding to a question concerning the kerfuffle about Barack Obama's January address, wherein Obama criticized -- and flagrantly mischaracterized -- a recent Supreme Court decision that loosened limits on political speech. The decision neither overturned "a century of law" nor conferred an entitlement on foreign corporations to finance U.S. candidates. Nevertheless, the Democratic donkeys arrayed in front of Obama leapt onto their hind legs and brayed in unison, while the six justices who were present sat silently. Justice Sam Alito, in an act of lese majeste, appeared to mutter "not true" about Obama's untruths.
When Republican presidents deliver these addresses, Republican legislators, too, lurch up and down like puppets on strings. And Congress wonders why it is considered infantile.
Most of the blame for the State of the Union silliness, as for so much else, goes to The Root of Much Mischief, aka Woodrow Wilson. But a president whose middle name was Wilson made matters worse.
George Washington delivered his report on the state of the union in person, as did John Adams. But the third president, Thomas Jefferson, put his thoughts in writing and dispatched them to Congress. Such presidential reticence is impossible to imagine in the Age of Obama, but Jefferson disliked the sound of his voice and considered it monarchical for the executive to stand above the legislature and lecture it.