In 1790, President George Washington delivered the first State of the Union Address to Congress in person. One of his opening lines was this: “I embrace with great satisfaction the opportunity, which now presents itself, of congratulating you on the present favourable prospects of our public affairs.” Modernize the language a little bit and I’m pretty sure that sums up how every President since #1 viewed the shape of the country under his watch. I haven’t read every address ever given, but I very much doubt that any Chief Executive began his remarks by saying something such as, “Let me tell ya, we are in a mess.”
For more than 100 years, from Jefferson to Wilson, the Presidents didn’t even bother to appear on Capitol Hill in person. Our third President possibly hadn’t been keen on a chilly open-carriage ride up Pennsylvania Avenue in January because he started the practice of sending separate written annual messages to the House and Senate instead of speech-making in the flesh. Subsequent Presidents apparently kind of liked that idea, and it wasn’t until 1913 that Woodrow Wilson broke with the tradition and spoke to a joint session of Congress that year. Since then, the only exception to a live chat was in 1945 when Franklin Roosevelt (a rather ill FDR, as history has it) sent a written version of his take on the state of affairs in the nation.
Joe Biden, of course, was the latest President to fulfill his Constitutional duty under Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 to periodically “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
Boy, did he ever. In keeping with every SOTU speech that I’ve ever heard, President Biden reeled off a laundry list of ways he’d like the federal treasury to be spent. As is usually now the case, members of Congress who identify with the President’s political party wildly applauded every suggestion while the loyal opposition sat on its collective hands.
Pundits weighed in with their thoughts on the President’s proposals, but what do you suppose the professional party kingpins thought? I’m thinking a conversation between two veteran partisans in a darkened booth at a bistro in Georgetown might have gone something like this:
DEM: Fantastic! The President was spot on. Hit every high note.
REP: You must be joking. You sure you were watching Biden’s speech and not a re-run from another president from a few years ago?
DEM: Not a chance. Biden was articulate, courageous, and obviously in full command.
REP: Of what? He stumbled and bumbled from the word go. Thought Chuck Schumer is the Minority Leader of the Senate. Which he should be, by the way.
DEM: You’re not suggesting any 2022 elections were stolen, are you?
REP: Let’s focus on the speech. Who wrote that for him, AOC and the Squad?
DEM: I thought it was very fair and balanced.
REP: Do you mean fare? Because everything he talked about comes with a huge price tag.
DEM: Which will be paid for by the . . .
REP: (Interrupting) billionaires in the country, right?
DEM: Oh, you WERE paying attention, I see.
REP: Even if you confiscated every dollar from every billionaire in the country you wouldn’t have enough to pay for a fraction of what Biden proposed.
DEM: That’s probably true. But that cash could be a good start. And don’t forget the corporations making obscene profits. There’s money in them thar hills, partner.
REP: It seems to me that Biden wants his legacy to be the guy who figured out how to spend more taxpayer money in four years than all previous Presidents combined since George Washington.
DEM: Hey, what can I say? Americans seem to like getting free money.
REP: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
DEM: Are you sure? We’re not paying for ours.
REP: Biden does realize his approval rating is heading toward ground zero, doesn’t he?
DEM: So, the only way to go is up, right?
REP: You know what? It doesn’t matter who’s at the podium. These State of the Union speeches are all pomp, circumstance, and pablum for the partisans. Why do we even have them anyway?
DEM: Oh, that’s easy. So political pros like us can stay in business. Where would WE be if everyone agreed on everything?
REP: Hmmm. I see your point. Well, I guess in that case, it WAS a great speech.
DEM: I knew you’d see it my way.
REP: Who woulda thought?
©MMXXIII. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer
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