Required by the United States Constitution, steeped in tradition and hyped by the media for days ahead, it’s time for the State of the Union address.
Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution requires the president to “… from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union …” and make recommendations to them.
Despite the language of the mandate, we didn’t even get around to calling it “The State of the Union” until the Second World War. It became official in 1947.
President Washington gave the first address before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 8, 1790, when the capital was still in New York. Thomas Jefferson viewed delivering the message in person as too “kingly” and submitted a written report instead. That practice continued for more than a hundred years.
Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of delivering the message in person, in part as a means to rally support for his agenda. Since then, every president except Herbert Hoover has gone before Congress personally, each with increasing media attention.
With the advent of electronic media came broadcasts via radio and then television. The time of delivery shifted from the daylight hours to prime time. Today it’s much more an address to the nation than a report to Congress.
Now the media run-up and pre-event hype often overshadows the main event. Speculation about who’s sitting with whom once sounded like a junior high prom. Today it’s preoccupation about who’s not attending and what those who do are wearing.
The media are promising every form of analysis and commentary before, during and after the speech, including “real-time fact checking.” They’re already conjecturing about both the speech itself and who will be the “Lenny Skutnik” of the show.
Lenny Skutnik was made virtually immortal by President Reagan in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 26, 1982. A low-level employee in the Congressional Budget Office, he dived into the freezing waters of the Potomac to save the life of one of the passengers of an Air Florida flight that had crashed into the river. President Reagan asked him to sit with the first lady and singled him out for his heroism.
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Since then, every president has followed suit. More than 50 ordinary Americans have been human illustrations of outstanding accomplishment, courage and gallantry.
Who President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE will select as his “Lenny Skutnik” is still a mystery, but much of what he will say is clear. The state of the union is pretty darn good.
For all of the tumult of the past year and the deep divisions that beset us, the fundamental truth is that Trump administration policies have passed “The Reagan Test”: We are better off than we were a year ago.
Armed with a mountain of evidence of a healthy and growing economy, the president will, no doubt, tout his regulatory reforms and tax policies.
With the stock market soaring at record rates, unemployment at all-time lows, virtually every sector of the economy growing at levels not realized in the previous eight years, consumer confidence up, billions of dollars being repatriated, millions of workers getting bonuses and the overwhelming majority getting a tax break, there’s a lot to brag about.
Likewise, the nation’s foreign policy is strong. ISIS has had its footprint shrunk to a postage stamp, and the North Koreans are at the negotiating table thanks, the South Korean president says, to President Trump. There’s a lot to be done, but a lot of progress has been made.
The president also has the opportunity to “recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” That’s an 18th-century call for laying out an agenda and rallying support for it. Look for the president to take full advantage.
The president would do well to focus on the piece of his agenda that has the broadest appeal, his promise to invest heavily in rebuilding our crumbling “infrastructure;” especially roads, bridges and ports. Politically that’s a winner and policy-wise it’s vital to both public safety and economic growth.
Last year President Trump spoke before a joint session, although it wasn't officially a State of the Union address. There were those who boycotted. Others were busy criticizing every word and parsing each phrase.
They didn’t come away with much. The president took full advantage of all the trappings of presidential power to call for national unity. He resisted the urge to ad lib. He was tempered, measured and forceful with a friendly demeanor. Even his media critics sang his praises.
Many of his critics wore white last year. This year they’ll be in black. The result will be the same. The symbolic gestures will pale to the force of the message — and the messenger. The State of the Union is always the president’s night.
Charlie Gerow, CEO of Quantum Communications and one of Pennsylvania’s most influential Republicans, is a nationally recognized leader in strategic communications and trusted advisor to leaders in government and business.