Is the State of the Union Address obsolete?

As was the case last year, my busy social schedule is such that I won’t see a live telecast of tonight’s State of the Union Address by President Obama. But, of course, I’ll catch up with video clips of the speech and read lots of comments about it from political pundits.

As was also the case last year, I can’t resist passing along THIS ESSAY by Linton Weeks, who wonders if this annual oratorical ritual has become obsolete:

Given the nonstop, stereo-rock news cycle, the warp speed tempo of geopolitics and the constant to-and-fro between the media and the president, has the State of the Union address become obsolete?

Traditionally, the speech — an annual where-we-stand lecture delivered by the president to a joint session of Congress — has for decades been an opportunity for the professor in chief to issue a national report card and put current events in calm, codifiable context.

In the past, it was a monumental moment — surrounded on each side by a few days of national reflection — in a relatively quiet and slowly whirring world

These days, however, there is no time — nor inclination — for a pause in the process. America is a comically sped-up motion picture, not a snapshot. America is a bullet train, not a diner. America is the river rapids, not a reflecting pool.

Everybody knows all the time what President Obama thinks about everything, from the White House websiteand countless other political sites, TV shows and press reports. And everyone knows what everyone else thinks about the president — and the state of the union.


The State of the Union address, says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, “is a big production that matters for a whole 24 hours, or less. But we all play along.”

He says, “I’m serious in that I don’t believe State of the Union speeches have any long-term or even medium-term effect, and increasingly so.”

Sabato is not alone in questioning the worth of the address.

“It is time to end the meaningless annual ritual of the State of the Union address,” historian Lewis Gould wrote in The Washington Postin 2006. “What began as a yearly survey of the nation’s condition has deteriorated into a frivolous moment of political theater and continuous campaigning.”

And, according to the Roaring Republican blog, “the SOTU has become the least influential moment of the president’s year.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *