Presidents, of course, love these occasions for letting them occupy the undisputed center of attention, basking in waves of applause. The occasion dramatizes the theme of the 2008 book The Cult of the Presidency, by Cato Institute analyst Gene Healy: the chief executive as "the great leader of the Progressives' dreams, Herbert Croly's 'Thor wielding with power and effect a sledge hammer in the cause of national righteousness.'"Perhaps that's a good thing. It's less about public-affairs programming and more about posturing by the Wise Experts.
The State of the Union address has grown in step with presidential presumption. It's a conspicuous symptom of a dangerous malady: We expect too much of our presidents and limit them too little.
Whether this event is still worth their time, however, is doubtful. If there was ever a time that direct exposure to presidential eloquence could melt the hearts of hostile legislators, it has passed. Even the public seems to have acquired immunity.
YES, YOU'VE HEARD IT ALL BEFORE.
Reason's Matt Welch composes the State of the Union address using snippets of fifty previous speeches. It's relatively short, and the critic might suggest there aren't enough "We must ..." or "I call on Congress ..." (yes, a few are there, but think frequency of the Hero leitmotif as opposed to that of Loge's in your composition.) In the same magazine, Steve Chapman proposes that a president comply with the Constitution in a simpler way. "You may want to skip the State of the Union address and prepare for something humbler, like the Super Bowl." Sorry, contemplating the AFL - NFL Playoff Game is still painful. But, in much the same way that the game has become an excuse for six hours of companies attempting to sell colored water in blue cans to dumb guys, the speech has become more about the wardrobe malfunctions and the pre- and post-game. "But most people who watch most likely will do so out of a heavy sense of civic duty rather than any urgent interest or any expectation that they'll learn much." I'm not like most people. For pre- and post-speech coverage, it's simple. I'd rather look at Megyn than at Rachel. There will be enough going on around the web that if I miss an egregious wardrobe malfunction, er, gaffe, somebody will catch it for me.