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How to Improve the State of the Union Address
21 Jan 2015

How to Improve the State of the Union Address


As a political person I hate the telecast of the State of the Union (SOTU). I hate just about everything about it.  There I said it.

Having said that let me be clear: the SOTU is an important exercise. It’s the telecast that bothers me.

When thinking about what is wrong with the SOTU telecast I can’t help but think about the movie “Back to the Future.” Recall in the movie Marty McFly leaves 1985 in a time machine and lands in 1955. Marty is showing his 1955 friend (Doc Brown) a video camera and Doc Brown then comments that it is no wonder the President of the United States in 1985 (Ronald Reagan) is an actor – the President would have to be an actor in order to look good on video devices. The point is a not so subtle jab at modern politics and in my opinion the SOTUS telecast in particular.

Here is what I hate about the SOTU telecast and my thoughts on how to improve the SOTU.

It is too staged. The SOTU is political theater at its worst. Since there are few reserved seats in the House Chamber where the SOTU is given, Members of Congress claim their seats along the center aisle of the House chamber early in the day so they can be seen on TV when the President is walking in to give his speech.  Having worked in the US House of Representatives, I can say way too much energy is expended by Members of Congress on getting a center aisle seat for the SOTU. If only that much energy was dedicated to the country’s problems, then we would be much better off.  Solution: Give the seats out to Members of Congress by a lottery so they can actually stay in their offices during the day and get some work done, instead of camping out all day along the center aisle of the House chamber in order to get  on TV.

Scrap the Visual aids: While we all like visual aids, having some shy private citizen stand up in the House chamber while Congress claps for him or her during the SOTU is awkward. I often ask myself who paid for these guests to get to Washington, DC.   Solution: Require that the President (and Members of Congress) disclose how much it cost and who paid to bring folks out to Washington for the SOTU.

There is too much clapping. The President gets interrupted way too often by Congressional clapping. Let the President speak. It is rude to keep interrupting the President. Each Member of Congress gets interviewed by the local media after the SOTU anyway so why do we have to know what they think of the SOTU while the President is still trying to give it.  Solution: Fine Members of Congress who interrupt the President during the SOTU.

Too little focus on what can be done: The President needs to reach a wide audience regarding his agenda, and the SOTU gives the President that opportunity. While I understand and agree with the need to state one’s agenda to the widest audience possible, Presidents talk too much in the SOTU about what they would like to do. Presidents should remember Americans are interested in results. Solution: SOTU remarks should focus on what can be done working with the Congress that the voters have given the President to work with rather than what the President would like to do.

It’s too long. Yeah, I am a typical American and my attention span starts to wander.  But let’s get real. Does it really take an hour to tell Americans how the country is doing and what the President proposes to do to make the country a better place. Solution: Require the SOTU to be 30 minutes or less.  The TV networks should give the President no more than 30 minutes and then cut the SOTU broadcast off if it goes longer than 30 minutes. If the country knew the President would only get 30 minutes and then get cut off, then the ratings would skyrocket because the suspense of getting the SOTU in under 30 minutes or less would make for great TV.

It is on too late. For me, living on the east coast, it starts at 9 pm. As an early riser, the start time messes with my schedule. I don’t like having to stay up that late to watch it – and the response. Solution:  Let’s face it,  the President rarely says something newsworthy at the SOTU and if the President did want to make news at the SOTU, the newsworthy item would be leaked earlier in the day or days before as was the case this year. Since there is no real news coming out of the SOTU why do the networks have to cover it live? Why not pre-record the SOTU and show it a time that all Americans who want to watch it could do so. Not everything the President says has to be carried live. Several Presidential statements have not been carried live and neither is the President’s weekly radio address.

In my opinion the best alternative to the problems associated with the telecast of the SOTU comes from the example of Thomas Jefferson. He submitted his SOTU in a written report to the Congress. A practice that was observed for more than a century after his presidency ended. I am hopeful this practice will resume.

Until then, I will continue to avoid the SOTU telecast and read the SOTU in the next day’s newspaper.

Steve-MoffittBefore joining CNP (formerly WHD Government Affairs), Steve served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Senate Affairs. He was the key liaison between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Senate, assuring that the Senate was informed of the DOD’s plans, programs and goals.

The views in this blog post represent the viewpoints of individual team members, not Capstone National Partners as a whole.

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