It's actually a constitutional mandate of sorts - you can find reference to it in Article II, Section 3:
He 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; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.Over the years the State of the Union speech has taken on certain customs; some good and some not. It's now an annual address of a joint session of Congress, though as you can see there's no constitutional mandate for that. The speech has a certain amount of pomp and ceremony, with the House Sergeant at Arms yelling, "Mister Speaker, the President of the United States!" just before he walks in. (This was a job that used to be performed by the House Doorkeeper, but they abolished that position sometime in the mid-nineties.)
The speech typically includes a reference to the First Lady, who will no doubt have all sorts of VIP's sitting next to her in the Gallery. (I'm guessing at least one of those VIP's tonight will be someone who was at a Tuscon supermarket a couple of weeks ago.) Recognition will certainly be given to our Armed Forces, and we'll no doubt hear that "the state of our union is strong" or some form of that. We'll probably hear about a list of programs - getting a "mention in the state of the union" is often seen as some sort of lobbying plum. We'll learn that children are our future, that we need more jobs, and of course, that America is the greatest country with the greatest people. And we'll wrap the whole thing up with asking God to bless us, everyone. The whole thing will probably last an hour, give or take. Someone will certainly count the number of times people applaud, people stand up, and if anyone shouts "you lie." It's going to be a little different in that the Democrats won't all sit on one side and the Republicans on another, but I'm reasonably confident partisanship will be present in some form. And of course, let's not forget the drinking games.
Then the opposition response will come - probably less lengthy, but probably more pointed in its criticism of the President and his policies. This year we get a special bonus opposition response from a "tea party" person, and I'm sure it will be like the first opposition response - just with more invective and references to debt and deficits, but realistically with considerably less substance.
Then the news networks will have their turn to bloviate - the "major" networks will trot out people who have worked in the White House before to explain to us what the speech really meant and whether the President "succeeded" in doing whatever. The cable networks will trot out their people who will explain why the President "failed," and we may even see a focus group or two in action.
The simple truth is this: while it's important for the President to keep the people in the loop, I think we should maybe try tweeting SOTU and see if our democracy is torn asunder. I notice that the Washington Post is trying this out, but they're only giving people one word - I like the idea but I don't like limiting it to one word - my tweet, my rules.
I'm betting the only people who would suffer are the people who care about cable news ratings. And frankly, I think this will actually get more people to pay attention.
So if you had to tweet the State of the Union, what would you say? Just for kicks, you could tweet yours and use the hashtag "#MYsotu" - hey, why not?
Mine: "We need more jobs, more clean energy and better schools. But health care reform is happening and we're coming back strong."