“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,” Article 2, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution
My, how far we have strayed from that rather reserved ideal. That of a president presenting to his co-equals in Congress a comprehensive assessment of where we stand as a nation so that they may act, if they so choose. As Justice Joseph Story observed, “[t]here is great wisdom, therefore, in not merely allowing, but in requiring, the president to lay before Congress all facts and information, which may assist their deliberations; and in enabling him at once to point out the evil, and to suggest the remedy.”
In that sense, the State of the Union was meant as a tool for furthering the balance of powers, but as President Obama has wielded it, it has transformed into a quasi-authoritarian address of a leader to his minions. As Kevin Williamson once wrote for National Review:
The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.
President Obama furthered the sad devolution of a once-staid republican address last night by giving not an update on the state of the union, but a lecture on how to continue his memory when he’s gone.
True to form, he did in a dualistic manner, shielding his more bilious partisan notions with an air of geniality. He argued that “one of the few regrets” he had as president was that the “rancor and suspicion between the two parties has gotten worse instead of better.” The hope then, he said, was for “a better politics,” that can only be achieved “if we work together” and “have rational, constructive debates.”
Those debates, Obama said, don’t work “if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice” or “are unpatriotic” or are “trying to weaken America.”
All wonderful sentiments, belied by years of this president treating anyone who disagrees with him with utter disrespect and condescension. As Francis Wilkinson writes for Bloomberg View:
The president didn’t treat Republicans like partners or even adversaries. He treated them like relics of a bygone era, a large, loud, but fading band of obstructionists too wedded to the past and too fearful of the future to factor in the president’s plans. By the time he got around to challenging the chamber to “fix our politics,” it was abundantly clear that he views the wholesale change of the GOP as the opening bid.
Oddly, his view of Republicans is one of a party that tells people to “fear the future,” “slam the brakes on change,” and that we can “restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.”
Conservatism is all about getting government out of the way of entrepreneurs and citizens who can carry us into the future. We don’t fear what comes next, we just don’t claim to know what awesome innovation is on the horizon and are wildly skeptical of anyone who says that not only does the government know where we’re headed, but can guide us there. In other words, we don’t want to slam the brakes on anything but an overactive government, and instead want to hit the accelerator on innovations that will improve the economy and deepen prosperity. It’s so-called progressives who fear change and want to control things they view as a “threat,” hence their desire to regulate self-driving cars and eliminate the sharing economy.
Are Democrats evil or stupid for espousing these views? No. As Obama would later say, these are questions that “fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged” and “it’s an honest disagreement,” which means the “American people have a choice to make.”
Yes, they do. So let’s put Obama and his lectur-y State of the Unions behind us and work for their votes.