Transplanted here from 2012 (and perviously from 2008 and originally from 2006, with many comments from the the original and subsequent years; links may suffer from linkrot after all these years.)
Something over at PoliBlog reminded me of why I pay no attention to the State of the Union address: It’s a worst-of-both-worlds form of political communication: All the pomp of a Speech from the Throne without any of the give-and-take of Question Period.
Steven takes issue with Lewis Gould’s characterization, from an essay called Ban the Bombast!:
More like an acceptance speech at a national convention than a candid review of the nation’s situation at the outset of a new year, the State of the Union has evolved into a semi-imperial speech from the throne.
Steven suggests that Gould’s “throne” characterization implies the president always get what he wants. Rather, for me, the reference reminds me precisely of what is wrong with the State of the Union address: It is not like a real throne speech at all.
“Speech from the throne” is the term used (with certain variations) in Westminister parliamentary systems. The head of state reads a statement about what “my government…” will do in the coming year. Then once it, and the dignity of the Queen (or her representative in Canada and other Commonwealth Realms) pretending that the government speaks for everyone, is over, things go back to normal. And that normal involves the head of government being hissed and booed and subjected to harsh questions in parliament.
In this respect, the State of the Union is really the worst of both worlds. The head of state stands before the people’s representatives (oh, and the senators, too) and delivers something allegedly about the nation as a whole. But then, as head of government–and therefore a partisan leader–he (i.e. the same person, unlike in Westminster systems) never sticks around to answer tough questions and subject himself to ridicule for the absurdities he has just mouthed. Instead, the opposition has to send someone to a TV/radio studio to give an equally absurd speech that hardly anyone listens to, and thus an opportunity for the sides to engage each other when people actually are paying attention is squandered.
I say dump the whole thing and in its place:
- (1) go back to the head of state being kept off the floor of the separate legislative body and instead have him send a written message to congress
(2) have the head of government stick around after presenting his plans and spin and make him take questions–preferably weekly, as in Canada and the UK.
That is, keep true to the separation of powers by dumping the image of dignity and superiority that its one-way communication from the “throne” of Congress implies, or make the President jostle and spar with the very same representatives of the people he’s speaking before.