When presidents exhale the breath of history — "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," or, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" — they invariably do it someplace other than in the State of the Union. A rhetorical omnibus making all local stops, the speech conveys a year's worth of departmental hackwork. In "Lend Me Your Ears," William Safire's compilation of great speeches, not one State of the Union address makes the table of contents.And then there's the way the State of the Union isn't about the state of the union:
The State of the Union is all about His Majesty, the president. Is he master of Congress or supplicant? How far will his poll numbers rise? How did he perform? Mr. Bush may not like French, but the address is the embodiment of "L'état, c'est moi," transforming citizens into subjects, much as Jefferson feared....But what's the problem, really? I know a perfect way to force the President to deliver his speech in writing, in my little world. I leave the TV off, and I read the text in the paper. You can do it too. So let George Bush have his fun tonight making a roomful of erstwhile blabbermouths sit there and listen to him for an hour and perform the tedious clapping/not clapping ritual. And skip the commentators. You don't need to know the precise number of times they clapped and the lengths of the various clappings.
Manipulation is the essence of the game, after all, and because no one ever stops playing it, the president is expected to exploit his free shot at the goal for all it's worth.
I see there's a second State-of-the-Union-is-no-damned-good op-ed. It's got a hilarious quote from one of Warren Harding's SOTUs:
"The motor car reflects our standard of living and gauges the speed of our present life. It long ago ran down Simple Living, and never halted to inquire about the prostrate figure which fell as its victim."