June Girard: The State of the Union is wrong


Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 at 9:52 p.m.

Yes, the Constitution calls for the president to “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.” But must the president have a royal event to do it?

George Washington personally delivered the first annual message to Congress. Thomas Jefferson found a speech to a joint session of Congress to be “too kingly” and chose to carry out his constitutional duty by sending details of his national priorities in separate, written notes to the House and Senate. From 1801 to 1913, presidents continued to send written notes to Congress.

In 1913, Wilson revived the process of a speech to a joint session of Congress. That speech was shared with the public only through newspapers until 1923, when Coolidge gave his message on the radio. It was Franklin Roosevelt that used the term “State of the Union” in 1935 and in 1947. Harry S. Truman was the first president to deliver a televised address.

The content of the State of the Union allows the democratically elected president to win support for his legislative agenda from both parties and the American people.

So why, since 1966, have we had a “rebuttal” to presidential recommendations? Rebuttal is defined as a way to oppose an argument. There is no argument here, it is a series of recommendations.

Nowhere in the Constitution does it give Congress the right to air its agreement or disagreement with the “recommendations of measures the president judges necessary and expedient.” The president carries the voice of the majority of American voters by virtue of his or her election.

This should not be overlooked.

We expect to read or hear what Congress is doing or has done. That is how the Congress makes it rebuttal and explains its support or objections to the people. We expect action from our representatives.

The State of the Union, an important constitutional requirement, has become political theatre. There's the pomp and circumstance of the walk down the aisle, as all the favored and specially chosen are invited to come and press the flesh with people most of them see frequently and know well.

Most of us want to know what the president recommends, that could be accomplished with one speech on television — without a live audience. That speech could then be reported in print media and broadcast over the radio and social media.

I for one would like to go back to a simple televised speech or a written report to Congress. Jefferson was right, recommendations to Congress about “the state of the union” have become “too kingly.”

June Girard lives in Gainesville.

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