The Constitution requires that presidents “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.”
Tradition has made the annual State of the Union address the primary public venue for such reporting.
As such, the State of the Union address is officially a big deal. And it is always accorded an appropriate measure of attention by the television networks, members of Congress (unless, like John McCain, they are bidding to replace the president) and the American people. But some State of the Union addresses are more equal than others.When George Bush addressed Congress in 2005, he did so as the most powerful man on the planet: the reelected commander of a warrior nation that was controlled down to the very roots of its executive, legislative and judicial branches by the president’s partisan allies. Even if it was obvious to any serious observer that severe second-term rot had already begun to set in, Bush boldly renewed America’s acquaintance with all the bad ideas – neo-conservative military adventuring and free trade abroad, deficit spending and related flights of fiscal fantasy at home – of his tenure.
Nothing was going to change, the president told America. Nothing would get better.
And nothing did. The occupation of Iraq grew deadlier and more expensive, the occupation of Afghanistan grew more unstable, trade deficits grew, structural deficits bloated, the rich got richer, the poor got poorer and America’s economy slowly swirled down the drain.
Then came the election of 2006, with its defeat of Bush’s Republican Party and the restoration of Democratic control of the Congress. Even if the Democrats did not provide Bush with the full-bodied opposition that the voted had hoped for, their presence broke the illusion of Bush’s omnipotence.
So it was that the president delivered his final State of the Union address last night as a broken man whose partisan allies would not even wear the “I’m a Bush Republican” pins that had been delivered to their offices by a puckish critic of the president and his party.
Even in the face of the humiliation that is a 31 percent approval rating, the president could not muster the humility that might have engendered sympathy.
Instead, he steadfastly stuck by a failed agenda. Yes, there were minor bows to reality, highlighted by his recent recognition that some redistribution of the wealth will be required to slow the arrival of a scorching recession until after this year’s elections.