Garner: Opinion

Column: Sometimes boring, SOTU is important

Johnny Whitfield, columntst The Eastern Wake News and the Garner-Cleveland Record.
Johnny Whitfield, columntst The Eastern Wake News and the Garner-Cleveland Record. tiwabu@newsobserver.com

Ventured out for a little while with my 16-year-old daughter Tuesday night during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. She got frustrated when I turned the radio on in the truck and she heard Obama’s speech coming over the airwaves.

Despite her whining, we listened to the speech al the way to our destination. As we left to return home a short time later, Obama was still speaking. Another request from my daughter to change the station went unheeded. I asked her why she was so disinterested in listening the speech.

“Because I don’t care,” she nearly shouted in what was arguably one of the most honest answers she’s probably ever given to me.

I questioned her about how a student taking a government class this spring could be so disinterested in the speech.

“Because it’s always the same thing every year,” she said.

Obama made a comment that led Pitt to explain to me that two years from now, we would have a new president. I asked her who she thought might make a good president two years from now. Oddly enough, she tabbed Mitt Romney, the Republican who challenged Obama in 2012 and lost. I asked her if she thought the race might come down to a Clinton and a Bush.

“If it does, I hope a Bush wins,” she said. That caught me a little by surprise, so I asked why. “I despise Bill Clinton. He used his power to have an affair. He cheated on his wife. And I don’t have much respect for Hilary Clinton either because no woman should stay with a husband who would do that.”

None of those explanations touch on the kinds of policy questions that are normally covered in the State of the Union, but I found it interesting that, more important than policy, she was using moral character as her compass.

But Tuesday night’s speech was as much about elections as it was policy (Obama’s quick-witted comeback about winning two elections excluded.) So, here’s a few interesting little tidbits courtesy of presidential historian Richard Schlesinger.

The President’s address doesn’t have to be given in person, though it is clear that’s the preferred medium in the modern day. Of the 225 addresses made only 81 have actually been spoken. Most of the time, the presidents have s simply delivered a written report to Congress.

The first State of the Union address delivered to a natianal audience was delivered on radio by Calvin Coolidge in 1922.

Harry Truman was the first president to deliver his speech on television. Two presidents - William Henry Harrison and James Garfield never delivered a State of the Union address. Neither man lived long enough after they were elected to actually deliver a State of the Union address.

The longest State of the Union adress was nearly an hour and a half long. Credit for that goes to Bill Clinton – my daughter’s fave.

Regardless of your politics or which party is in power in the White House, the State of the Union addresses are important moments in our national discussion. Only time will tell whether some of Obama’s ideas will come to fruition.

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