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tv   Lectures in History History of State of the Union Addresses  CSPAN  February 4, 2023 8:00am-9:10am EST

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[applause] [cheering] [applause] [cheering]
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today we are going to discuss the state of the union address and we're going to do it by using jeffrey to listen to our benefit. so just to recap a little bit, the state of the union address straddles the two constitutional presidencies that jeffrey tullis defined in your readings. the first one, as you recall, that first big c constitution or presidency, these are the formal rules and procedures define our system and also the formal
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expectations upon the executive during, the founding era, the big c constitution presidency is one that proscribe popular leadership. the second one, the small c constitu tional presidency. this is a creation of our progressive presidents, and it has been built up since the time of woodrow wilson and the small c constitutional presidency prescribes popular leadership. it demands it of presidents and. if you recall from your readings that big c formal of the constitution and, the small c popular presidency, these exist uneasily with one another in the modern era we'll pick up on this again later today. we discussed earlier in the semester that in part thanks to
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our friend governor morris article two of the constitution has far less specificity in it than article one. does anyone recall why that is the case grace hamilton wanted the presidents to seize the silences of the constitution. okay, so you will recall that hamilton and his allies wanted to create space within the constitution for presidents to act when the constitution is silent. so we referred to that as seizing the silence of the constitution. and this was a delivery active effort to allow presidents to and accumulate power within the system. and hamilton, his allies believed that it should be the executive's parade active to act. when the constitution was silent
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at or even against the constitution if the general will demand it, especially in foreign affairs, seizing the silences of the constitution, as you may recall, will become one of the most dangerous and controversial of presidential actions. now, one element of article that is fairly specific but has resulted different interpretations over time is the state of the union address, and this is found in section three of article quite simply. he shall from time to give to the congress information on the state of the union and recommend to their consideration such measures as shall judge necessary and. so today we're going to discuss the history of this provision
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and how this how the state of the union address has evolved over. and we'll consider place in modern american political and we'll use to liz's conception of the two constitutional presidencies. as for the history of the state of union, the state of the u.s. address mirrors changes in the executive itself. it highlights changes to our expectation of presidential leadership and also highlights the limits of our modern rhetorical role and increasingly, president. so let's start the basic mechanics of of this address, this is an annual event of state allegedly two houses of congress convene in chamber of the house of representatives. the diplomatic is present.
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the joint chiefs are there. the justices of the supreme court are in attendance. the first lady enters respectful applause. and then the most important part for me is the following following. the first speaker, the president of the united states. why do we think that particular clip is so exciting? me not only because it would appear to be an awesome job aspiration for me, think that i could belt out. mr. speaker, president of the united states with good amount of ease. what it what are those words indicate to us us? i know it's so short and it's so
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it's not the the thing that people are waiting for. but there's something that clip that helps us to understand our constitutional system. the fact that he is announced by the house sergeant at arms indicates that this is not the president's domain this is not his house. he comes by. he is escorted before this happens. the speaker of the house of representatives and the vice president, the united states acting in his capacity, is president of the senate, will put together an escort of legislators and they will exit the chamber. and typically these are congressional leaders or maybe congressional members of congress from the president's home state, and they will escort the president into the into the chamber of the house. and it's important to understand this, because a system of
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separate institutions a system of separation of powers, the president doesn't just walk in. right. this is not his government. he is invited the house to come and address and he walks into a co-equal branch of government. now, after the pomp. the speech takes on today, all of the hallmarks of a political rally. right. if there is one feature from a state of the union address that we are probably all really familiar with, it is the incessant applause and then the unusual particularly or perhaps during divided government, when one party controls one or both houses, right. and the president is of a different party when the president says something that his party really likes and if the speaker is of his party, the speaker stands. but they are if the vice
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president will stand, obviously, the vice president would be if his party and speaker is not the speaker remain seated while vice president applauds this really awkward during the clinton years just because al gore had an interesting way of applauding the president, you know, and they sometimes they stand together sometimes they don't stand at all sometimes half the chamber stands to applaud the president if it's something partizan this looks more like a political than else. the washington post reported that during george w state of the union address for every minute of his speech, there were 29 seconds of applause right. so so that's a lot interruptions in a state of the union address many people watch president trump commanded an audience of 46 million americans during his 2018 state of the union. that ranks ninth in terms of
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viewership. a presidential address addressed before congress and that includes all presidential addresses not all presidential addresses are formal state of the union speeches. president clinton's address in, 1993, was the most watched with 65 million people tuning in. it's no surprise that those numbers have decline and probably will continue to decline if for no other reason. citizens have a lot of other options when presidents are on television, those of us of a certain age will remember that when the president was television, there were no other options because there were three stations and each one had the president, the united states, giving an address if. that seems like a long time ago. i guess it was a long ago today. citizens have a lot of other options to choose from when a president to speaking. it also makes it more difficult presidents to get their message out because so many of us are no longer tuning in.
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so that's not a surprise that we'd see that decline. there are other reasons why it might not be a surprise. remember that second constitutional presidency of jeffrey to liz is required as popular leadership. it requires presidents to stand in the well of the house and to demand that congress move certain bills. it requires presidents try to grab the mantle of public opinion. there. there are a few big problems here. the first is that that large c constitution, all presidency separates power. the reason i really enjoy the clip of the sergeant in arms introducing the president is because it is a reminder that congress independently elected and it has its own source of power. it's not derived the executive and that congress is itself divided between those two
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houses. and those two houses are rarely the thumb of the even when the president is popular. second big problem is that presidents routine only face a congress that is further divided by political party in modern era only franklin roosevelt, john kennedy, lyndon johnson and jimmy carter have had one party control of congress their entire presidency and you know your reading of history that even they faced significant obstacles. those are the four years of the carter presidency one. one might wonder if in fact the republicans did control congress because. he faced so many obstacles in getting his agenda through institution so one party control does guarantee that presidents are going to be successful in congress.
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finally, the third dilemma here is that popular leadership is almost always predicate on the popularity of the incumbent president and some presidencies, as you know, become extraordinarily unpopular. we can think of the last two years of the presidency. woodrow wilson, for example or the last two years of the presidency of george w bush. presidents became really unpopular during those during that time in office. and if that second constitution or presidency is predicated on popular leadership. well what happens when the president becomes extraordinarily unpopular unpopular and even when they are popular, when they remain relatively popular, they can in certain congressional be really unpopular. and if those congressional
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districts are important to, the leadership in the house and the senate, then that's an even additional obstacle presidents have in getting their through congress. so what, if anything, the state of the union do here? how can it address these problems of popular leadership? i would i'd argue, is that it can do very little because it has become less a tool of governance or a window in the into the executive's unique view. our constitutional system and much more of a partizan address. it might that the state of the union is part of the problem of the modern presidency. so let's talk a little bit about the history of address and see if we can't understand it a little bit better changes to it over time and understand how it fits into our examples of modern
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presidential leadership. so the provision the constitution that article two, section three, it did not have an equivalent in the articles of confederation. so the framers of our constitution were not we're not pulling this from the articles of confederation. you know that the articles of confederation really provided no more than a presiding officer for the executive. there was no model there for to pull from our state of the union was modern build on the king's speech from the throne which called the most gracious speech from in. well referred to as the queen's speech, staying on or of queen elizabeth. the most gracious, gracious speech parliament. this was an occasion when the monarch commanded members of parliament to attend to him as
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he laid before them his priorities and his policy recommendation was king george, the third most gracious speech to parliament. october 1775, noted. for example, quote, the present situation in america and my constant desire to have your advice, concurrence and assistance on every important occasion have determined to call you thus together early. now, this is a command. no matter. how gracious the language is. this is a command that parliament attend the king. and this language was modified by the bit, as one might expect in the early american the new york constitution. of 1777, quote, it shall be the
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duty of the governor inform the legislature at every session of the condition of the state so far as may respect department to, recommend such matters to their consideration. i shall appear to him to its good government welfare and prosperity. the pennsylvania constitution was more straightforward and little more similar to what we find in us constitution. quote, he shall from time to time to the general assembly information of the state of the commonwealth and recommend to their consideration such measures as he may judge expedient. now, the impetus for the state of the union address for the language find in the constitution derives in part from the expectation pins placed upon the american executive. recall that when office was
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designed it was be the only one that had a view of the whole. the only office that could see the needs of the whole country. whereas members of congress were expected to have more parochial concerns. they were expect it to be more concerned about issues confronting their districts their constituents or their states and the executive. the only one that by virtue that position atop the constitutional could see the entirety it was also supposed to be inhabited by continental figures who were to a sense of public opinion, but were not to be beholden to public opinion. now, the first state of the union was very brief and, very formal, and it was also the
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shortest on record in term terms of word count. and it registered just 1089 words and is like a four page paper. unless you've increased your font size. so we're talking short here. washington quote, i have directed the officers to lay before you respectfully such papers and estimates as regard affairs particularly recommend it to your consideration and necessary to convey to you that information of the state of the union, which is my duty to afford. okay, that's not really eloquent. right, or memorable, but a style that is in with washington's goal to read the constitution and follow it plainly.
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right. washington is doing this for what reason do we recall? why is washington's concerned about following the constitution so plainly. yeah, because he was the first president and he knew anything you do to set a precedent. okay, because he knew he was first and he knew that in everything did was going to establish a precedent. so in so many of his actions he was so careful about how he proceeded and the state of the union is no exception. it's his addresses are very formal they're rather succinct and quite frankly at the time. right government was just getting started. so there weren't many things report as one might expect, given the state of affairs at that time. okay. now washington is delivering this address in person and that
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practice continues under his john adams washington's average word count for his state of the union is about 2000 words, not lengthy. adams was a bit less wordy. he had an average. 1790 words for his state of the union addresses. thomas jefferson when he assumes office after, the bitter election 1800 ends the practice of giving the state of the union in person. he believed that the ceremony itself smacked of monarchy and we are well aware of jefferson's views on monarchs. and he thought that this speech was far too similar to the king's speech from the throne. and i thought it might be
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useful. this obviously is not king george. the third. i couldn't find a youtube of him, but i do have queen elizabeth the second. and at least in style, you get a sense of of what this looks like. and we'll talk about the substance for a minute. if you're familiar with how american presidents are during our state of the union clip is somewhat of a shock. leno it's predicted predicted.
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now, what she does there is she is commanding the lord to attend to her to sit on her command. and then what happens after that is she will give an indication that the house of commons is to be summoned to attend to her as well. now, what's interesting about, the way that the british do this is that neither the queen nor, the house of lords is where actual political power resides in, the united kingdom. but during address, which is very formal, there's no applause as right. she's actually reading the words that the government has written for. the government will stand in the back. the house of commons the prime minister. the cabinet opposition, they all stand in the rear after being summoned by the queen. now they do slam door in the
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face of her messenger, who's who's called black rod. and but they open it. black will enter and then command to attend. her majesty. right. this is all a little bit too much for thomas jefferson, right? it's a little bit too much, to allow a president executive to command the of representatives, the people. so he ends the practice. now, incidentally thomas jefferson's, not a great speaker. he's a great writer. the final thinker. he's not the best at public oratory. so that may also have had something to do with him ending, this tradition. but, you know of george washington. don't die easily, right? think of the two term tradition that up being written into the constitution. nevertheless, this jefferson is able to this tradition when
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stops appearing before congress. it'll be well over 100 years before another president will appear before congress to deliver the state of the union. now, here presidents are freed from the burden of oral delivery, and as a result, they become more verbose. jefferson's first state of the union had just. 3000 words. this would swell to 10,000 under our friendly fillmore, who appears, from time to time, irregularly in this class. it would average about 19,000 and under the progressive theodore roosevelt. and interestingly hit a high. of 22,614 words under the conservative of william howard
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taft. our most loquacious modern president is bill clinton. in his speeches delivered, congress would average about 7400 words. just to give you comparison of the difference, the last time a president submitted written address was jimmy carter. upon office in 1981. and that written address was in the modern. significant 33,000 words. but his final oral, he delivered address to congress in. 1980 was a mere 3400. president trump's first day of the new is about, you know, an average 5000 words, not the greatest, not the smallest. what's the difference between the written and the oral addresses? and can a president still a written state of the union address? so the answer between what's the
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difference is only really that they're longer. that's just by style. there's nothing constitutionally ordered and in the idea that a written state of the union union would be longer than an orally delivered state of the union. when you don't have the pressure to speak publicly, you can write as much you want because then it's some poor, poor clerk's responsibility to have to read it before congress. if they do, then is for you to deliver it right. and the second part of the question can, a president, if they so choose, deliver their state the union address in a in written fashion. right when do we think can president if they so desire send their state of the union in written form. yes. yes. they can. yes, they can. it's simply a choice. president carter gave last in in 1981 in written fashion in the
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early seventies, president nixon experimented with addresses that were all very lengthy, though gave most of his state of the union in person. it's really just a choice now. it's a good question because. the demands of the second constant regional presidency, one that prescribes popular. makes it difficult to imagine how presidents can avoid delivering it in person because it demands is that it demands the spectacle, even if it's largely unsuccessful times which will get to you. you know, carter, obviously 1981 was on his way out of office, just been defeated in the 1980 election by ronald reagan. so that, you know, is an exception. but presidents certainly reserve of the right, the only says that they shall that they shall do this from time to time. it doesn't mandate that they do it in either written or in person fashion.
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okay. now, we noted that when millard fillmore sitting 10,000 words, write in his address and bill clinton's averaging about, you know, 7000, it's ironic, one of the modern critiques of the state of the union address is that they're nothing more than long laundry lists of proposals. of course, the written addresses were far longer than those that have been delivered in person. the difference beyond the length is the expectation. the expectation of a address with it's commands that congress do things and increasingly overt appeal to partizanship. you know, these of the personal commitment that presidents are now expected to make in their state of the union very different than what we saw when
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they issued these addresses, writing. so the tradition even if they're are shorter than they're written is that, you know, the presidents lay before congress a very long list of policy proposals. the difference is that in the earlier addresses, it appeared that presidents were aware that they alone did not have the power to demand compliance with goals, whereas our our modern version suggests that you we've talked about the presidential magic wand and if presidents can just wave that magic wand, they will get congress to do what they want. they often try and they realize the magic wand isn't working. it rarely, rarely does. all right. so this in person practice was reinstated by woodrow wilson. in april of 1930.
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now, wilson believed that the constitutional separation powers was a flaw more in the american constitutional system. and so he had spent a good part of his life critiquing separation of powers. he was not alone in this. interestingly, we can consider william howard taft, his very conservative predecessor. taft sent his december 1912 state of the union address to congress in written. and there's this fascinating passage in taft's state of the union again. taft is the conservative taft is the one in the 1912 election which which pitted a in the view of many a radical theodore roosevelt versus a radical woodrow wilson and the, uh,
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conservative william howard taft, a defender of the constitution, and, and he wrote in his 1912 address the rigid, holding a part of the executive and legislative branches of this government has worked for the great of either. there has been much lost in the machinery due to the lack of cooperation and interchange of views. face to face between the represented lives of the executive and members of the two legislative branches of government. it was never intended that they should be separated in the sense of not being constant effective touch and relationship to each other. the legislative and executive each its own appropriate function. but these functions must be
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coordinated. now there is a fascinating passage coming from the the quite william howard taft it's something we'd expect wilson to have said but but it wasn't. and so there was there was this yearning at the time for. greater cooperation, greater coordination between the branches. now, that addressed that wilson gave in april of 1913 was not an official of the union address at that point in. history, even in the written form, the state of union was delivered in december of the calendar year. the practice of a december state of the union address didn't until 1934, with the change congressional calendar and now of the union addresses are given typically mid to late january. occasionally early february. the start of a congressional session. woodrow wilson believed a strong party leader could overcome what
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he viewed as the defects our constitutional system. and during the early years of his presidency c he both dominated the democratic and dominated congress and it lent some credence to his view that a popular leader could overcome the obstacle embedded in the constitution. but he didn't formally change the constitution and are not prime ministers, nor are they monarchs. and he able to temporarily overcome constitution and norms without changing the terms of the constitution. he appeared frequently before congress to talk about a whole range of issues. in addition to his formal state of the union addresses. and because of that, he to create an expectation of
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presidential government of executive leadership that is capable via words, actions of ameliorating and economic disparities and differences. he created an expectation of that presidential magic wand the presidents could wave it, and congress and the states do a president's bidding. this view has largely stuck through democratic and republican administrations, despite the unhappy experience wilson's last two years in office. so he presents during the course of his presidency the promises of popular leadership, of which the state of the union is an example, but also the perils of popular leadership. you may remember.
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that the 1918 midterm elections that's his second midterm, the midterm of his second term as president, represented a rejection of woodrow wilson and the republicans gained control of both houses of congress in a repudiation of wilson's policies. the what good is popular party leadership if presidents if a president's party does not control the congress. the senate you will recall from history, rejected his for a league of nations during this time. and they did this despite wilson's efforts to tour the country, to rally public opinion to his cause. right. again, wilson hoped that public that the president would be the repository of public opinion and that that would force congress
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to act in the way that he saw fit. but by the end of his presidency, he was no longer the repository of public opinion. he was no longer popular. but he's built a model of presidential leadership that is based on and that final year in particular for wilson's presidency is a real lonely one. now, despite that kind of grim reality, his transformation of the state of the union was and it is now a central. of a wilsonian view of both government and power. now, it wasn't immediate. wilson in addition to the 1918 repudiation of wilson's presidency, the country, as you remember, returns to normalcy in 1920 and his conservative
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successors they don't follow his lead. calvin coolidge did appear once before congress, but harding coolidge by and large, hoover they're not delivering their state of the union. in person they reverting back to that earlier jeffersonian tradition of delivering their state of the union and writing. but since the presidency of franklin roosevelt it has become customary for the president to deliver the address a joint session of congress. and though the constitution again is pretty clear, the president shall from time to time give to congress information on the state of the union, the context of this speech during the modern era has changed dramatically. now. one of the most important developments is under president lyndon johnson johnson brings
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the speech into prime time. and this allows the address to given directly to the american people. this dramatically increases number of people who are paying attention to the state of the union address, as you might imagine. right now, the first televised state of the union occurred in 1947, after over 20 years of of radio coverage and calvin coolidge was we popular? remember, we remember fdr, the president, who really harnessed but really was coolidge to begin to harness that new and his presidency was the first to use radio quite effectively franklin roosevelt was even more effective and. certainly the context had changed dramatically during his presidency. roosevelt is also the first to
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call this the state of the union. it had been called annual address, but roosevelt is the first to popularize that term. every year. harry truman is the first to appear on television to deliver the state of the union. those technological advances started make the speech less of an address to. the congress and more of an address to the american people from the congress. the house of representatives becomes in many ways a really cool television set for presidents to directly address. the american people, which is a very different interpretation of the state of the union than what we find in the constitution and what early presidents expected. so johnson as was his wont you know formalizes this by moving
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the speech into prime time. if it's going to be a speech where you're directly to the people, why not do it when most of them can watch. on this, which was my home, i stirred by old friendships. tho total agreement between the executive and the congress is impossible. total respect is important. now we know a lot about president johnson. of course, you know, those are those are significant words. he actually did mean respect for him and his office and his policy proposals. right. interestingly that state of the union is delivered in january of 1969. that's his final and just a short time before richard nixon
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would take the oath of office as president. so presidents were also delivering these at the end of term, which is a custom that no longer subscribe to. the last time a president delivered a state, the union at the end of their presidency was president who delivered it in writing? some presidents, like frank ronald reagan, have chosen a address, but none since carter have formally had a state of the union in january of their final, you know, final couple of weeks in office. but note also the wilsonian conception here, not only he moving it into prime time that millions of americans can can watch him. and while he acknowledges, you know, it's never going to never get together. perfect glee. total respect is important. and what that means institutionally is respect for the presidency and its policy initiatives. and in 1969, of course we're coming off of pretty significant
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legislative enacted by johnson and previous congress. and so this is really the height of of an activist federal government during johnson in the state of the union was designed in part to harness the power of the executive. well, the opposition party wasn't to allow an increase in viewership to happen without a response response, literally. so in 1966, republican congressional leaders gave the first official response to a state the union address, a 30 minute televised address by republican senators everett dirksen and representative gerald ford. the republican leaders, the house and senate. and this tradition takes off.
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in some fits and starts. they didn't always in the early years, but by the 1970s it had become a tradition and is routinely given by a member or members of the opposition immediately following the state of the union address. so you may recall that our own congressman joe kennedy gave, the opposition response, formal opposition response to president trump's state of the union in 18. sometimes given by congressional leaders. other times they're given by up and coming members of the party. sometimes governors will give the address. it's a way for opposition party to highlight its in response to the state of the union address by a president. well after moving to prime time you might think well what what more is there left to do to innovate of the state of union? to innovate within the state of the union address? right. what more can presidents do to
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reinterpret, reimagine this constitutional directive? well, when ronald reagan entered office in 1981, he didn't allow essential conservatism to prevent him from expanding the spectacle that the state of the union had become. so reagan is also a master of of stagecraft and a master at storytelling. and so in 1982, he adds that we hadn't seen before. because just two weeks ago in the of a terrible tragedy on the potomac we saw again the spirit of american at its finest. the heroism of dedicated rescue workers saving crash victims from icy waters. and we saw the heroism of.
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one of our young employees, lenny scotney, who when he saw a woman lose your grip, the helicopter line dived the water and dragged her to. okay, you see there, president reagan adding this element, bringing in honored guests and then introducing them from the floor. i mean, these are these are stories typically of great american heroes. and so he's, again, turning the state of the union, something that we might on television. these are great stories these are great people to introduce, but it has very little to do with the constitutional directive.
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but it has a lot to do with that small c second constitutional presidency. president c which demands popular. right. and so we see these kinds of things starting to flourish in the 1980s and 1990s. now, in this particular instance, more often than not, the folks who are introduced are nonpartizan everyone has a reason to to want to applaud and, to recognize them right. well, you know, presidents don't miss opportunity to score partizan points as. well. so something similar during presidency of bill clinton, his 1996 address. see if can spot the difference. i'd like to give you one example. his name is richard dean. the 49 year old vietnam veteran
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who's worked for the social security administration for 22 years now. last year, he was hard at work in the federal building in oklahoma city when the blast killed 169 people and brought the rubble down all around. he reentered that building for. he saved the lives of three women. he's here with us this evening. and i. i want to recognize richard and applaud both his public service and his extraordinary personal heroism.
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but richard dean's story doesn't end there this last november, he was forced out of his office when the government shut down. and the second time the government shut down. he continued helping tulsa recipients, but it working without pay on behalf of richard dean and his family and all the other people who are out there working every day, doing a good job for the american people. i challenge all of you in this chamber, but never, ever shut the government down. yeah. okay. what do we think about that? what's the difference between that clip we showed of ronald
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reagan and the clip here from bill. who bill clinton uses his story. turn his personal a personal story he created into an account that scores for his political party. okay. so so clinton takes this this moment not unlike the reagan moment of unity as certifiable hero, someone who raced into to the oklahoma city building. it was it was being turned into rubble to rescue people on multiple occasions. and then he uses to make a political argument about not shutting down the government. right now. that's very. right. so if we had watched of the applause here, what you would have is behind clinton. this address is republicans speaker of the house newt gingrich, lots of republican controlled republicans controlled the house and senate in 1996. you'd seen that moment where one
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party stands wildly to applaud while another party sits grimly. now clinton scored here that that he he he scored politically. right. and so we start to see that the address, the lure of politics is too great for presidents. this is wilson's small c constitutional presidency. it is designed to it is designed for leadership. and so presidents avoid the opportunity to use the address to try to score political points. this is we are way far away from that formal kind of succinct address that george washington would have given many of his successors. and we are into the latter stages of that small c constitutional where presidents are using these opportunities to
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advance a political agenda. where are we today? well, you may recall a couple of of instance is that are hallmarks of today's address. the first one is really unusual. it doesn't happen that often. but as the address has more partizan, it's something we should expect to see again in. you may recall this. there are also those who claim that our reform efforts would ensure illegal immigrants. this too is false. the reforms the reforms i propose would not apply to those who are here illegally illegally. it's not true. and once that is congressman joe wilson yelling at president obama, you lie. now, that's not a state of the union address. it is a address before congress.
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right. so the president here is speaking about the health care bill that he's advancing and wilson apologizes for the outburst. it was considered a breach of decorum. so, you know, there's that. but the face on the vice president, nancy pelosi, doing this is is classic. i mean, this is they consider this a real breach. and yet, as the address has become more partizan, it's perhaps unusual that the house would look more like. the house of commons during a debate. if you've ever seen prime minister's questions. house. house of commons. right. it is shown every week on c-span on sunday evenings. i don't know what doing on sunday evenings, but i'm usually watching at least a clip from prime minister's questions, much to the of my children who'd rather be watching sunday football. but we get in a little british civics before the big game.
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they shout and yell at each other and they they hoot and holler. that's typically not how business in the american house is done. this resembles that a little more where you have a member of congress really. speaking out during the course of a presidential state of the union. all right. let's watch this next clip. see what your reaction is here again this is. this is a state of the union by president obama in 2010. with all due deference to, separation of powers. last week, the supreme court reversed a century of law that i believe will open the floodgates for special including foreign corporations to spend without limit in our elections. i don't think american elections
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should be bankrolled by america's most powerful interests or worse by foreign entities. they should be decided by the american people. and i'd urge democrats and republicans to pass a bill that helps correct all. right. what do we notice about that clip from president obama's 2010 state of the union address. what's our takeaway here? our first impression? anything unusual there, grace? one of the supreme court justices was kind of like shaking his head. okay. justice alito wasn't having it right. he certainly did not agree with president assessment of what the supreme court had decided in the citizens case. right. what was his reaction. to not stand up and shake his head?
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well, he didn't stand up. he did shake his head ever so slightly. that kind of. look, i sometimes give you and i'm like, really neat, really. all right. that ever so slight shake of the head maybe you mouth something he's mouthing not true. if you if you slow it down right. you can see what he's saying. but what do we notice what the supreme court does? you have a president, the united states, who says, in all due deference, he does launch a broadside the supreme court and the decision they had just handed down. and what does the supreme do in response to. they don't stand up. they don't stand up. they actually never stand up. presidents know this. right now they do. when when it is a completely unobjectionable point. right so at the outset, presidents introduced and everyone stands and applauds for them out of respect when the president introduces a hero sitting the the audience. the supreme court will stand up when it's an unobjectionable clearly non partizan overture
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that the president is making. then the court respond accordingly. but for the entire address, when presidents are that laundry list of policy proposals members of congress are plotting few seconds the supreme court sits there and they don't respond. why do we think that it's why? why do members of the supreme court sit there in in silence? yeah, because they're supposed to remain above the political debate. okay. so they're supposed to remain it all. why? because they're supposed to be the independent judiciary who just decide what is constitutional and what's not. and trying to get involved. the nuances of politics. well, sure. so. exactly. so their commitment is to the rule of law and it would be detrimental style to the rule of law if. the president said something like, i want you to pass this campaign finance reform bill and half the supreme court and the
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other half did not. and then they were called at a later date to adjudicate the issue, which we know they will be called upon to do, because most of our political issues and policy issues end up as issues before the court. now, it is unusual for a president to call out the court in such a way when they are seated right in front of him unable to respond. while partizans stand up around them and applaud. that is a very awkward scene and some supreme court justices after this. you have not seen justice alito at a supreme at a state of the union since this time. right. he's he has stopped going. he didn't hide his frustration at that moment. and he's just stopped attending. justice scalia, before he passed, had long stopped attending because he thought they had turned into childish affairs. when you see the kinds applause
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for hooting, hollering, justice thomas said that, you know, you also, the viewing audience, can't hear the things that said under the breath of members of congress who are seated in the audience. right. the many justices who view this view this as a waste of their time. i think only four attended the most recent state of the union address. right. okay okay. joe wilson's outburst is a is a one small example. it hasn't really repeated since president broadside against the supreme court again. it doesn't happen that often, but, you know, our recent state of the union addresses encouraged that wilsonian view that the problem with our system is the constitutional separation of powers, separate institutions. state of the unions encourage. the idea that that those that feature of our constitution is a
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defect and that presidents are and should be political saviors. those who can dictate demands and deadlines to congress. the reality is many, presidents have learned. in fact, one of the best readings this semester is what presidents can learn from political scientists. they don't have a magic wand, right? that would be my memo to. the president. the magic wand that staff has convinced you you have does not exist. that doesn't mean your is without power. it significant political power. and you know from your readings that the relative powers of modern presidents far more are far more vast than. their 19th century predecessors. but they they can't easily congress to bend to their will. this doesn't them from trying it
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doesn't prevent them from insisting that they can overcome the limits of their through a skilled and politically adept state of the union address. what they might gain in political prestige through this annual spectacle is something that we lose in our understanding of their constitutional limits. first, large constitution that to this has reminded us of so before i take your questions, let's let's let's conclude with shakespeare, obviously. clinton rossiter was a famous of the presidency, and he wrote a book called the american presidency, and he believed the cold war had created incredible burdens. presidents and he wrote an
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epigraph to his. it was a line from macbeth. and the line is me thought i heard a voice cry. i sleep no more and sent a copy of this book to president kennedy. and kennedy replied. kennedy's response was that he thought ross had the wrong epigraph. and kennedy suggests in dialog from the fourth. and in this scene, glenda boastfully proclaims, i can call spirits from the vast deeps, to which the response from hotspur air is why, so can i, or so can any man, but will they come when you do call for them. the state of the union address in modern american politics is
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glenn dower. the boast that we can do this? we use this speech to summon the spirits of the american people. it believed that the president was the personification of popular leadership and the state of the union, the preeminent. of one presidents can call the of the people. we are like hotspur. asking really important question. will they come? will they follow increasingly, the state of the union falls short. because it is, it a poor substitute for the constitution. separation of powers as it attempts to be. it attempts to bridge the divide through increasingly use of and partizan leadership.
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there's no evidence that it actually meets its target. all right. let's let's take a few before before we break up for today. what do we think? what questions do you have about presidents in their state of the union addresses? yeah, there are signs a lot of curiosity. you said that the president is welcomed, invited into congress to speak them and address them. has a president ever been turned down or asked not to come? that's a really great question. as a president as a president, ever been turned down? not for a state of the union address? no. i think that would be difficult to. imagine the kind of institutional gridlock that would be necessary for a congress to to turn down the request that a president appear
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them for a state of the union. now, there have been there have been times during the reagan presidency where he negotiated with the speaker of the house, tip o'neill, on presidential addresses. o'neill was a great protector of. the institutional prerogatives of the house and he did not think fondly presidents using the house to lobby for specific legislative items outside of the contours of the state of the union address. but no no that would that would i think indicate a decline in discourse that i would prefer not to imagine even. as you can probably tell, i'm not a big of the way in which the state of the union has been reinterpreted over time. do think when presidents make the request to attend that it's congress's duty to invite to come to. do you think the state of the union should go to being a non partizan, or is that even a
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possibility this point? so what do we think about that. do what do we think about going back to either a written address or asking presidents to tone down the partizanship? is that even a possibility? yeah, i seriously doubt it. especially with the fact that the spectacle is like all about like the relationship between the president and the media and like how the media like like gets by the president and whatnot. and like the president like needs to be, needs to have the spectacle in order, like, and be popular. get the popular. so, i mean, like, i it kind of like stinks now, but like, i don't think it'll really change all that much. yeah, i suspect that you're right. i suspect it's. it would be awfully hard to convince presidents that this was no longer in their best interests. right. presidents try to control the narrative, the political narrative. and so what they would reason to
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ably believe is their failure to go and to deliver the address in person would allow someone to control the narrative. and so i doubt very much that, you know, you had a reading by the washington post columnist. will he would he would love for presidents to go back to that that earlier era where they're delivering and writing in part. because he's a critique of the view and practically speaking, it's unlikely that go back to a written form. now could presidents tape, you know, tame the partizan ship? but yeah, that's a choice. and that's a choice that they that they make. again, i suspect that the pressures on them to advance a narrow those pressures are pretty, pretty heavy. all right any other questions.
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yes. you said that nobody since a carter like given a state of the union at the end of their terms. so what happens with the state of the union is is it just passed over or does the new president give it? that's right. no. so what we what we find. is that carter one at the end of his term four did john and did nixon resigned so that complicates the schedule so i presidents can deliver at the end of their term it's delivered every january and so the outgoing president can choose to deliver state of the union the way that we saw lyndon johnson did before the joint session. they can choose to send one in writing as president carter did, or they can choose not to give one. ultimately, what that's a that's a a lot of presidential addresses a short period of time. so you could have an outgoing president in early january give their final state of the union the incoming president gives
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their inaugural address in late january and they often will ask congress to also appear them early in their term, not an official state of the union. it's a presidential address before. so sometimes choose to do that as well. other presidents opted for a farewell address. again, going back to tradition of george washington, but not all choose to do that either. the last two presidents, i don't believe president obama did president george bush did not either. so, you know, there's there's some flexibility. all right, everyone. well, thank you. that's it for today. enjoy your week and i will see, you guys, next monday.
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