Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution: “He shall from time to time 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;”
Above is the Constitutional provision for what we typically call the State of the Union Address today.
Some people like to play semantics by employing President’s Annual Message for earlier administrations or remarks such as each of the five (5) previous Presidents addressed Congress shortly after being inaugurated and thus those talks cannot technically be considered a State of the Union Address. For example in 1989 and 1993, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton addressed Congress with “Administration Goals” speeches.
Other people like the historical trivia by referencing the fact that not all the speeches have been delivered orally. Both George Washington and John Adams spoke in front of Congress, but Thomas Jefferson delivered his remarks in writing which started a practice that continued over 100 years until Woodrow Wilson gave his address before Congress in 1913.
Often I hear that Franklin Roosevelt began the expectation of an oral address. It’s a legitimate argument, but there have been multiple breaks in the practice since FDR. Examples include FDR himself in 1945 when he delivered a written message to Congress even though he delivered a summary message to the American people in a radio address. Eisenhower did the same in 1956. Truman delivered one address as a written message. Nixon presented Congress with multiple written documents titled as “State of the Union” in 1973 and 1974 and also addressed Congress in person. Jimmy Carter presented both written and oral addresses to Congress during his term in office. Holes can be poked in just about any generality.
Anyone interested in additional information regarding State of Union Addresses, Presidential speeches, Inaugural Addresses, and other written and oral remarks will find a wealth of information at The American Presidency Project at the University of California Santa Barbara.
In addition to being able to access the primary documents, the site offers a number of commentaries and sets of data for analysis and research purposes. For example Gerhard Peters, one of the site’s creators, has a more thorough review on the history of these “State of the Union” messages than I have provided here. With the historical background concluded:
The Usurping of Powers 2014 Version
Last night, 28 January 2014, Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union message. Numerous sources have audio, video, and transcripts. The one I have linked is from Politico, but the material is available on most likely one if not all of one’s favorite news sources.
Did President Obama say anything shocking last night? In my opinion he did not. Of course everyone will find either positives or negatives based on personal ideology, but did anything truly surprise you?
Like past Presidents, he spoke words which promote what many refer to as the American opportunity. Your phrase may differ from mine, but the idea is most likely similar in that we have chances to succeed or to fail which are not available to some people outside the United States of America. It requires work, some luck, patience, and even more work to make things better for most. While that is true, it is also true that everyone does not start at the same level or will face the same obstacles. Some will deny, but at least in platforms I think a consensus exists among the factions that what we want is for as many people as possible to have the opportunity to put forth their best effort to achieve.
The debate, obviously involves the best manner to make that dream into a reality.
President Obama did call on Congress to take action. He asserted that if Congress did not develop plans in certain areas that he would take action via his Executive power. Some argue that assertion is a usurping of powers and circumventing Congress. I hear calls for impeachment based on such statements and when the Executive Orders are signed. If this method were impeachable, every single individual who held the office would have been impeached.
People will throw numbers into the argument, and it is true that Obama has issued fewer Executive Orders than his predecessors. Here I do not like that statistical argument because honestly Executive Orders are not the same. Still I would ask everyone to compare some of the Executive Orders signed by past Presidents to those signed by Obama. Since many “conservatives” invoke the spirit of Ronald Reagan, at least look at his Executive Orders. One difference is Reagan signed those orders quietly without public declarations to Congress as Obama has done. Congresses during the Reagan administration, however, actually put legislation on the President’s desk and spent far greater time in Washington working than in recess and fundraising than recent Congresses. The other difference which may but should not surprise people are that many Reagan’s Orders were more powerful than those people are calling Obama out for either signing or stating that he will sign if Congress refuses to address the issue.
The Great Divider:
How many different opposition responses took place last night? “Official” opposition responses date back to the administration of Lyndon Johnson. Many times multiple individuals, a dozen or more for Johnson and Ronald Reagan, participated in delivering the opposing response to the Address. Those, however, were unified responses. Last night we saw a Republican response, a Spanish language response mirroring the Republican points, A Tea Party response, and a Rand Paul response. Since many are enamored with labels, all of these separate responses were by Republicans.
The separate responses did have a few similar themes. The ideological bickering is constant on both sides of the aisle and honestly in my opinion is the fault of all the factions in Congress and the Federal government.
Taking those themes out leaves the contention that the opposition is working hard to solve the problems facing the country today, and it is the imperialistic or dictatorial divider in the White House preventing the American recovery and American dream.
I’m not trying to dismiss the importance of the measures brought forth, but I encourage people to look at the House calendar and floor summaries for this week. With all the criticism of remarks in last night’s speech by the President and comments that there are other options that would be better, why can’t I find these issues being brought forth on the Floor of the House? The GOP has the majority and unlike the Senate, there are no filibusters on the Floor.
What is the priority of the opposition?