Political Hay

The Washington Outsider’s Guide to the State of the Union

Another reason to blame Woodrow Wilson.

By 1.28.14

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“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.” — Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution

“You lie!” -Joe Wilson, Congressman (R-S.C.) and American prophet during President Obama’s September 9, 2009 address on Obamacare before the assembled joint Houses of Congress

“The fate of the free world in the hands of a bunch of hustlers and thieves.” —Darius Stone, a character played by hip hop artist Ice Cube in the 2005 action film xXx: State of the Union, which incidentally has nothing to do with the State of the Union Address

“If Obama mentions inequality, finish 99% of your drink.” —2014 State of the Union Drinking Game, ClotureClub.com

The presidency of Woodrow Wilson is commonly understood by conservative intellectuals to have been a low point for traditional American republicanism. Wilson, a former academic inspired by the writings of German idealist philosophers, carelessly brushed aside once-cherished notions of vigorous but constitutionally limited government. (The road to Hegel is paved with good intentions.) His administration helped usher in the limitless, “progressive” government we live under today. But if that is not enough to convince you that Wilson was a bad egg, consider this: Every president from Woodie on has made at least one State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

Oh, it didn’t have to be this way. The Constitution only stipulates that the president occasionally fill the Congress in on how things are going. That could just as easily be done in writing. In fact, that’s exactly how it used to go. But politicians can’t resist time in front of a camera, and so the State of the Union has evolved into a yearly primetime television extravaganza with all of the pomp of the Super Bowl, but less of the fun. (Though it would explain volumes if it turned out that our politicians run the same risk of head injuries as NFL players.)

Just because there is no chance of seeing the premiere of a new GoDaddy.com commercial doesn’t mean that there is no enjoyment to be had from the State of the Union. Some like to numb the pain with a drinking game. Greg Gutfeld, host of The Five on Fox News Channel, laid out rules for this year that would be particularly hard on the liver.

But you don’t need booze to revel in the absurdity. You’ll feel the same stupor either way as President Obama tries to explain away the rough start for Obamacare. Odds are better than 10 to 1 that he will attempt to lay the blame for the failures of his eponymous health care legislation on someone else. The rich, probably. Those guys are always up to no good, except for George Soros and Warren Buffet. In keeping with this theme, don’t be surprised to hear Obama channel New York City’s ultra-liberal new mayor Bill de Blasio in railing against “income inequality.” This strategy makes sense for the president; he clearly doesn’t know how to create economic growth, and blunders like Obamacare aren’t winning him any friends in the shrinking middle class, so he may as well shift the focus to the “problem” of those who are doing uncommonly well.  

The past year has been unkind to Obama, from revelations about NSA surveillance on ordinary Americans, to the torturous rollout of the HealthCare.gov website meant to offer easy access to his signature health insurance exchanges, to increasingly intense questioning from a once compliant mainstream media. He will try to wash all of this off in his State of the Union address, speaking as much to the American people as to his ostensible audience of Congress.

It’s an uphill climb; a new Washington Post-ABC poll says that 63 percent of Americans do not have confidence in his ability to make the right decisions for the country, and for the first time prior to a State of the Union address, more Americans disapprove of his performance than approve. It’s almost enough to make you feel bad for the guy. Almost, but then you remember that he garnered Poltifact.com’s 2013 Lie of the Year Award for his now infamous utterance “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

If the policy is too depressing, the protocol and pageantry surrounding the speech might be of more interest. Will Sheila Jackson Lee—a Yale-educated congresswoman who once allegedly asked NASA officials if the Mars Rover would be able to get a picture of the flag planted on the Red Planet by Neil Armstrong—retain her customary seat along the aisle to shake Obama’s hand? How often will the camera catch a grimacing John Boehner next to a grinning Joe Biden? And who will be the “designated survivor,” the member of the president’s cabinet who watches the speech from an undisclosed location so that the rest of us can live secure in the knowledge that in the worst case scenario, the Secretary of Basketweaving will live to lead us forth from the rubble?

One thing is certain, however. NCIS: Los Angeles will be back next Tuesday. If you like your primetime programming, you can keep your primetime programming.

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About the Author

Bill Zeiser is a communications consultant living in New York City and a 2012 Publius Fellow of the Claremont Institute. Follow him on Twitter @BillZeiser.