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Why the SOTU Matters

Yesterday's Washington Post Outlook section featured a jeremiad by Lewis Gould arguing for the elimination of State of the Union addresses. As I read it, I was nodding along at his list of the absurdities that have come to accompany this annual ritual: the imperial entrance of the Almighty POTUS, the Real People in the gallery, the forced upbeat tone, the pressure to create phony proposals the administration has no intention of pursuing, the bloviating television commentary, etc., etc.Hell, I could add a few annoyances, such as the bizarre calesthentics of the vice president, the speaker of the House, and Congress itself (more amusing when the two figures behind the president are from different parties) in deciding when to clap, cheer, stand, sit, smile, laugh, or glower.Still, Gould undermines his own argument for banning the SOTU in examining George W. Bush's current dilemma:

Bush must now give his sixth State of the Union Address message without the accompanying drama of recent terrorist attacks such as those that preceded the 2002 address and without being on the brink of a war in Iraq, as we were in 2003. Like the sixth or seventh husband of an oft-wed screen star, the president knows what is expected of him. But how does he make the minutiae of health savings accounts or enhanced tax deductions for medical expenses interesting for his audience at home? The mysteries of copays and the "doughnut" in the Medicare drug benefit are not likely to bring viewers to the edge of their sofas.
Well, I'm not sure that last part is true if you happen to be a Medicare beneficiary who could use a little explanation of why the administration has foisted this fiasco upon them, but aside from that, who cares if this creates a difficult bit of stagecraft for Bush and his handlers? I mean, it's not as though the administration has this wonderful but wonky domestic agenda that poor Bush has to dumb down for the folks, is it? On health care, on energy, on ethics, on the budget, on Katrina, just to mention a few topics, Bush's problem is that his administration does not have anything new to say, but has to dress up the same old stuff as an agenda, which undermines his usual habit of justifying himself as the embodiment of the war on terror.So I'm glad Bush has to do this speech. Otherwise, this president who thinks his re-election was the only "accountability moment" he need suffer through would enjoy the power to appear before Congress and the American people only when it suits his own purposes.
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