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Feb 12

SOTU: Article II, Section 3

“He [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” ~US Constitution, Article II, Section 3

"We the People, in order to form a more perfect union..."

“We the People, in order to form a more perfect union…”

Pretty cool, huh?

OK, you might not consider the State of the Union as a “cool” thing, but living in Washington, DC and being someone who digs our representational democratic system of government… this is like our Super Bowl.

Regardless of politics, the process of the President reporting to the Congress the current state of our country, and more importantly the idea of setting an agenda for the upcoming year is such an amazing show of the strength of our democracy.  Yes, to fill a 24-hour news cycle (along with the typical American’s attention span being as short as it is, and hoping for more sexy-time/scandalous news than boring-old appreciation of our government setup) we are often focusing on the sillier parts to the SOTU… who is sitting on the aisle seat to get a handshake from the President; who is in the galley watching live; who is doing the opposition party response speech… all distractions in my mind from the most amazing thing: the actual connection of President to US Congress in an evening of pure political statesmanship.

Now, although the US Constitution states a requirement for this report, it hasn’t always been in person and the meeting/spectacle it is now in our media/social media world.  Presidents Washington and Adams did indeed report in person.. but President Jefferson didn’t feel a face-to-face was Presidential (he felt it gave too much of a “monarchical” sense to the Presidency).  The practice stayed a written-only report until 1913 with the return of a verbal address to Congress by President Woodrow Wilson.  Even the NAME of this thing – The State of the Union Address – wasn’t actually used until the 1930s with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Until then, it was just “The President’s Annual Message to Congress.”

But forget the name of it, or how it is delivered… let’s just appreciate the system and the meaning of what this exercise means. That’s the ooey-gooey center.

With the Speaker of the House and Vice President (aka The President of the US Senate) seated behind him, the

POTUS, at the mic, with Veep & Speaker behind

POTUS, at the mic, with Veep & Speaker behind

President stands in front of both Houses of Congress (US House of Representatives and US Senate) and  the

President’s Cabinet, plus other dignitaries and visitors in the galley, and shapes the conversation government is about to go into for years. Shaping policy and historical/cultural changes can begin with the word said inside this speech. Civil rights, suffrage movement, Medicare… and even THIS? This isn’t the stuff I love the most.

It’s the PROTOCOL. In a world that is less and less formal, a world of “business causal” turning into just plain-old “casual” … what I love is some of the formal proceedings that happen within this amazing event:

1.  Leave One Behind – One Cabinet Appointee within the Presidential line of succession is not given the old invite and is stuck with the rest of us behind the velvet rope. Why? Because what would happen, God Forbid, if some kind of catastrophe/disaster/terrorist attack would take place? ALL the government’s leaders are gathered in one area.  Even though Washington, DC is one of the most protective/protected cities in the country, this city has experienced tension, tragedy and suffering – especially since September 11, 2001.  So one person is left off the list, brought to The White House and is there in the wings…just in case.

2. “Mister Speaker!!!” – The House Deputy Sergeant at Arms and Sergeant at Arms both play a major role in this event moving forward. The Vice President and US Senate are introduced to the House Chamber by the Deputy Sergeant at Arms; the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, and Cabinet are then announced in by the Deputy Sergeant at Arms … then the headliner: the House Sergeant at Arms announces the President of the United States.

3. One more Intro – You think that’s a great intro? I mean who wouldn’t want to have someone announce you into a room? (Can you imagine going into a CVS with someone running in front yelling, “Mr. CVS Manager! The President in His Own Mind and of His Own Apartment!”).. well there’s one more. The Speaker of the House, kind of like the Host of this Party at his place, then gets to say a very specific announcement, “Members of [the] Congress, I have the high privilege and [the] distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States.”  Begin next of a BILLION standing-O’s.

4. Those Manila Envelopes – When POTUS (President of the United States’ call sign) arrived at the rostrum and greets the Speaker and Vice President, two envelopes are handed to them… copies of the speech. It’s a little thing and isn’t really talked about too much.. but I love the “psst.. these are for you” kind of pass that happens.

5. Look! Standing O! Drink! – OK, this isn’t actually one of those historical/meaningful parts of the event, but c’mon… every event like needs a drinking game right? Maybe it’s just in the beltway here, but we in DC have “Viewing Parties” and other gatherings for events like the SOTU.  Bars have viewing events and drink specials, but even if you’re home watching with friends? No worries. Drinking games are abundant and ready to go! 2012_state_of_the_union_full

Our government often gives John Q. American a real case of heartburn.  Approval ratings in the teens for Congress, gridlock, political bickering.. an overall sense of nothing getting done. Hard to debate this, and even harder to justify the “why” of all this. But then we have these special events, these moments where hopefully statesmanship takes precedent over politics. It is at these moments, these historical moments, where I hope we all take a moment from the media circus and political gamesmanship, and appreciate this system of government. This “grand experiment” which has survived since our Declaration of Independence and resulting separation from the British Empire and its king.  It may be hard to see in such a cynical time, but these moments can really show how incredible – and honorable – our government can really be.

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