We’re in the midst of an election campaign to decide whether Barack Obama gets to keep his office another four years and yet, for 90 minutes or so, we’re supposed to pretend that he’s our king. The entirety of both Houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs, and the Cabinet–minus, of course, some token unelected apparatchik kept in a safe location somewhere to reconstitute the government in the event a Japanese airliner rams the Capitol– is supposed to clap like trained monkeys while the Campaigner in Chief delivers a partisan stump speech thinly disguised as a plea for national unity. Or, essentially, an insinuation that criticizing the president is somehow unpatriotic.
I think this is really the heart of the matter. When the framers required in Article II, Section 3 of the constitution that the president should “from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union,” they probably had a sober and frank assessment in mind — not a bonanza of demagoguery.
For a long time, the State of the Union was a sober assessment. The tradition of delivering a speech can technically be traced back to George Washington, but Thomas Jefferson — regarding the speech as too monarchical — upended that practice and began sending State of the Union letters to Congress instead. This letter-writing tradition continued until Woodrow Wilson delivered a State of the Union address to Congress in 1913. So while it may be the president’s constitutional duty to update Congress on the State of the Union, there’s no reason that update has to be passed along through a speech.