Speaker John Boehner has it in his power to spare us in 2015 an event that manages to be both mind-numbing and replete with monarchical ceremony.
I refer of course to that annual ritual known as the State of the Union address.
National Review editor Rich Lowry proposed not inviting President Obama to the House chamber to deliver his State of the 2015 Union address because of the president’s unconstitutional actions with regard to immigration. “If I were John Boehner,” Lowery told the New York Times, “I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.’ ”
What a splendid idea!
In fact, it is such an appealing idea that we shouldn’t need a constitutional crisis to do it. The Constitution requires that the president deliver a State of the Union to Congress every year, but it doesn’t say how. After delivering his first SOTU in person, Thomas Jefferson wisely nixed the oral SOTU in favor of a letter. This sound tradition continued for the most part until Woodrow Wilson.
The State of the Union address is no longer a sober consideration of the state of the union but rather a political circus. It has become undignified and yet at the same time a gratifying display of ceremony for the man who delivers it. Charles C. W. Cooke wrote after the 2013 SOTU:
As Jefferson quickly noticed, the State of the Union speech is, at best, little more than a chance for the citizen-executive to play monarch commanding his parliament (this is how Wilson saw himself), and, at worst, a pointless round of free, adulatory publicity for one branch of the government.
The optics are all wrong, rendering Congress a subordinate branch and the president a King. The charade indulges the human desire for pageantry, and that desire is probably insoluble. Nonetheless, trying to dissolve America’s penchant for caesaropapism is a worthy task whether it will be ultimately possible or not, and frustrated advocates of limited government and of the branches of government retaining some sense of equality might note that the State of the Union speech and the Imperial Presidency are inextricably linked.
President Obama’s unconstitutional actions more than justify not inviting him to deliver his SOTU . It would be a twofer: a deserved rebuke to the president and a relief from this unseemly ritual. It would probably be particularly annoying to a president known to be fond of monarchical trappings and adulation. But dastardly Speaker Boehner refuses to put us out of our SOTU misery:
House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday rebuffed conservatives who had been urging him not to invite President Obama to deliver the State of the Union address, in protest over his executive actions on immigration.
Boehner reasoned that giving Obama the floor would hurt, not help, the president's cause.
"The more the president talks about his ideas, the more unpopular he becomes," Boehner said. "Why would I want to deprive him of that opportunity?"
Of course, when the time comes, the president will get a cordial reception in the House chamber, and the address will be written in such a way that Speaker Boehner, sitting behind and above him, will certainly end up having to clap at certain points or look churlish.
Forget the president’s unconstitutional immigration actions. Speaker Boehner could have spared his nation a lot of pomp and boredom.