In the 12 months we have to steel ourselves for the next State of the Union spectacle, let us count the ways that this spawn of democratic Caesarism — presidency worship — has become grotesque. It would be the most embarrassing ceremony in the nation’s civic liturgy, were the nation still capable of being embarrassed by its puerile faith in presidential magic.
The Constitution laconically requires only that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Nothing requires “from time to time” to be construed as “every damn year.” Informing and recommending need not involve today’s tawdry ritual of wishful thinking by presidents unhinged from political reality and histrionics by their audiences. And must we be annually reminded that all presidents think that everything they want is “necessary and expedient”?
Some of the blame for this yearly night of nonsense goes to Ronald Reagan. Most, however, goes to Woodrow Wilson. Reagan, who loved entertainment, pioneered the regrettable practice of stocking the House gallery with (usually) admirable people. Wilson, who loved himself, had, as professors often do, a theory, which caused him to reverse Thomas Jefferson’s wholesome reticence.