The State of the Union address has grown in step with presidential presumption. It’s a conspicuous symptom of a dangerous malady: We expect too much of our presidents and limit them too little.
Whether this event is still worth their time, however, is doubtful. If there was ever a time that direct exposure to presidential eloquence could melt the hearts of hostile legislators, it has passed. Even the public seems to have acquired immunity.
The effort often backfires. “In a 2013 analysis of SOTU polling,” Healy has noted, “Gallup found that ‘most presidents have shown an average decrease in approval of one or more points between the last poll conducted before the State of the Union and the first one conducted afterward.'”
Obama might be surprised to learn that killing it off would have no downside. When Calvin Coolidge woke up from his daily White House nap, he would puckishly ask an aide: “Is the country still there?” It always was.