The United States Constitution, Article II, Section 3, requires the President to give Congress information of the State of the Union and to recommend their consideration for measures that he judges necessary and expedient.
George Washington personally delivered his first message to congress on January 8th, 1790. Since then presidents have been delivering what is now referred to as the State of the Union address to congress. The speech was shared with the public through newspaper until 1923 when the message from Calvin Coolidge was delivered by radio. The term “state of the union” was first used in 1935 by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harry S. Truman was the first president to deliver a televised version of the speech in 1947.
Keeping to Essentials
The modern version of the State of the Union address is to outline an agenda for the current administration. This was not always the case. Washington for example, only hit on the concept of the union of the states, which had just been recently created. The primary goal of Washington’s administration was to establish and maintain the union.
Putting it in Writing
Jefferson decided that speaking to a joint session of congress was a bit to “kingly.” President Jefferson made the decision to send out the details of his national priorities in note form. This written report was considered a good idea and for 112 years this is the way the president met his duty of reporting to congress on the state of the union.
In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson decided to once again to speak in front of congress about the state of the union and it has been carried on this way since then. While there is no time set for when the speech must be delivered, it is typically held at the end of January when congress begins its session.
Today, the speech serves as a conversation between congress and the president as well as a way for the president to promote the political agenda of his party. While the speech of President Obama seemed to be mostly a democratic agenda, in the past there has been important information contained in the speeches. Some examples include:
1823: Monroe Doctrine is explained by James Monroe. This doctrine called on European nations to end western colonization.
1862: President Lincoln told the nation that he wanted to end slavery.
1941: President Roosevelt talked about the “Four Freedoms.”
2002: President George W. Bush shared the plans for the war on terror, just four months after the terrorist attacks that occurred on 9/11.
Obama’s State of the Union 2013
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama discussed several political issues including climate change, gun control, minimum wage, and of course health care. Here are some of the points that he made on each.
While climate change remains a big issue, Obama simply does not have the backing of congress to actually get anything done about it. The only members of congress that are currently proposing bills dealing with global warming are Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer, two liberals who are not likely to get any support from the other side.
This is a hot button topic considering the recent events at Sandy Hook Elementary. While recent polls of the American people show overwhelming support for stricter gun control laws, the fact of the matter is that these laws are going to be tough to get passed. It will be interesting to see how gun control proposals pan out over the next few months.
This might have been the most surprising proposal of the evening. However, in 2008 Obama campaigned on raising minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and in his speech he proposed $9 per hour. He has done little to deliver on this pledge and it is likely just more hype that nothing will come of.
Health care is still a major discussion. With the Supreme Court ruling that the “tax” was legal, (PDF) the Obamacare laws will be in full effect by the end of next year. During his speech Obama touched on how the affordable care act is already helping to slow the amount health care costs are growing. However, there is little evidence to support his statements.
From Washington to Obama, the State of the Union has changed immensely. What used to be a speech to address issues that the nation was facing has become a stage for the president to state is own political agenda. With 33 million people watching Obama’s speech, he had a large platform on which to truly address the real problems that the country is facing, but he chose to offer rhetoric with no real solutions, which seems to be the norm in the modern era.