The Constitution simply requires that the President, from time to time, send a message to Congress on conditions in the country. This message has come to be known as the State of Union and done on an annual basis. The first was delivered by George Washington in person, delivering the speech before a Joint Session of Congress. It was modeled after the Speech from the Throne in the UK.
Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice, considering it too monarchial. He substituted a written message instead. This practice was continued until the 20th century when Woodrow Wilson went back to an in person address before Congress.
I can recall only one honest State of the Union in my lifetime. That was delivered by Gerald Ford in 1975, during what was then the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Ford started by saying, “The State of the Union is not good.”
Otherwise, the State of the Union has come to be pure public relations fluff. The President touts the achievements of his regime, both real and imagined, and lays out an agenda for the coming year.
With Reagan, as might be expected, the State of the Union became straight show biz. Differing heroes of the past year from the military and law enforcement would be introduced. Then to satisfy the politically correct crowd, a woman from Harlem, who cared for orphans with Aids, would be introduced, sitting next to Nancy herself.
It really became show biz during one of Clinton’s. While he was droning on, CNN went to split screen coverage as the verdict was being read in the wrongful death civil suit against O.J. Simpson.
Towards the end of the Bush II regime, the State of the Union became so removed from reality, that most people except for Republican bitter-enders quit watching altogether.
Now it’s Obama’s term and I won’t bother.
To get real look at the lay of the land, I”l conclude with another piece from the delightful Norse blog, OSKOREI:
MACHIAVELLI AND THE CONCEPT OF VIRTU
Italian thinker and diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote along similar themes as Khaldun. Today he is best known for THE PRINCE, in which he gave various advice based on Realpolitik and stripped from morality to leaders of state.
But Machiavelli also wrote the work DISCORSI, in which he comments upon the history of early Rome. In that that book, he is a Republican.
The most important value for Machiavelli is Virtu (Latin virtus), which is related to our word “virtue.” Machiavelli means it more in its Latin sense of “manly,” but individuals with virtu are primarily marked by their ability to enforce their will on volatile social situations. They do this through a combination of strong will, strength and briiliant & strategic calculation. His thesis is, that what made early Rome so strong and expansive, was the virtu of the people, a people who took an active part in the State. Conflicts make a people strong, in that they keep the qualities of virtu alive (it should be added that some of the classic virtues are not central to Machiavelli, among them honesty).
It can be argued that the modern West has lost the quality of virtu. The people are no longer really part of the State, they are instead ruled by a political elite that is not even of their own blood. As a result, virtu has abandoned them, and instead of expansive and manly individuals, we have a mass of pacified, cowardly and obese consumers. With the erosion of security and welfare, virtu is however reborn.