NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, January 22nd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up, Cal Thomas on an opportunity to spice up the State of the Union.
CAL THOMAS, COMMENTATOR: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has given President Trump an opportunity to change the dynamic of the State of the Union address, an event that has become predictable and often boring. It usually features members of Congress popping up and down like whack-a-moles, interrupting the president with applause if they agree with him, or stoney silence if they don’t.
Pelosi claims that because of the partial government shutdown, the security of the U.S. Capitol cannot be guaranteed. The Department of Homeland Security debunked her claim, saying the Secret Service and Capitol Police will perform their duties whether or not they are getting paychecks.
Still, the dispute gives the president options.
The Constitution requires a president to deliver an annual assessment of the state of the union. George Washington delivered the first one before Congress on January 8th, 1790 in New York City. It was then the new nation’s provisional capital.
In 1801, Thomas Jefferson set the precedent of writing his state of the union address and having it delivered to Congress by a clerk. He thought an in-person address would have made him look too much like a king appearing before his subjects.
Woodrow Wilson re-established the practice of an in-person speech, but the practice was not consistent even during the latter part of the 20th century. Jimmy Carter delivered a written report in January 1981, shortly before Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.
Every president since has delivered a State of the Union address before Congress. Reagan added a twist—the recognition of balcony guests he and his successors wished to honor.
When radio and especially television offered an opportunity for presidents to be heard and later seen, most have delivered their remarks in person. The House of Representatives offers an impressive backdrop, but shots of some members of Congress smirking, texting, and otherwise not paying much attention, do not demonstrate the respect the speech deserves.
Most people who pay attention to the childish and partisan behavior that characterizes Washington these days can do their own assessment of the state of the union. If they have jobs and are prospering, they probably think it is pretty good … the pettiness in Washington notwithstanding.
Should President Trump decide to do an alternative report, either in writing, or from the White House, or even a retro address on radio, he is likely to get more attention than he would receive from delivering it to Congress in person.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Cal Thomas.