Why I dislike the State of the Union Address (but watch it anyway)

Tonight is President Barack Obama’s fifth State of the Union Address. Which as we all know whose name is derived from Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution:

He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

As a (very) amateur political buff and a connoisseur of oratory, this should be a really big night for me. But these speeches always seem to leave me underwhelmed and often times annoyed. (Not to mention tired, an unexpected consequence of moving to the east coast is the really late start times for live events.)

I have a few issues:

1. The speech is too long
How the length of State of the Union speeches confirms every stereotype we have of our presidents, Chris Cillizza, Washington Post “The Fix” Blog, January 28, 2014
Since President George H.W. Bush was elected, we have not had a State of the Union that is less than 47 minutes long. Obama has averaged 63 minutes. I have a difficult time believing that you a skilled politician can not have a more succinct message than that.

2. The speech is rarely cohesive enough to be effective
State of Union: A speech its writers love to hate, Associated Press, January 24, 2014.
Michael Waldman, President Bill Clinton’s chief speechwriter from 1995 to 1999 said it best in this article, “It is at its best…an elegant laundry list.”

3. The applause by members of Congress is a circus show
The clapping that takes place every other word is a joke. This is the President of the United States and we should give him the respect of being able to finish a sentence and have some flow to the speech. Members of Congress, you are not being clever, just sit down and shut up for once.

4. The efforts to point out members of the audience is annoying pandering
First started when President Ronald Reagan recognized Lenny Skutniks in 1982 for his heroism after a plane crash in the Potamac River in Washington DC, the Presidents always take the opportunity to try and add a human side to their stories. While you would think that I would support this type of personalization, I have never seen an example that doesn’t look like pandering. I wish they would all just stop it. If they want to tell a story about themselves, that would lead to actual authenticity.

In the end I am going to watch the speech because it is an event. I am sucker for pomp and circumstance. Honestly, I am not sure there is much cooler than the Sergent-at-Arms loudly projecting at the back of the House Chambers: “Mister/Madam Speaker, the President of the United States”.

I just wish there was a better speech to go with it.

Image credit: Dyanna Hyde, 2010

What do you think can be done to improve the State of the Union Address?

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