“He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
So states Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution.
The “he” refers to the president of the United States, and Tuesday, Barack Obama will perform that duty when he addresses a joint session of Congress.
He will enter the House chamber amid great pomp and ceremony and will by virtue of his office be greeted by thunderous applause after the sergeant at arms announces his presence, and again after the Speaker of the House introduces him with the words: “Members of (the) Congress, I have the high privilege and (the) distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States.”
By custom, members of both major political parties rise and give a throaty ovation along with their applause, no matter whether they agree with the president’s policies or not. But that’s where the comity usually ends.
Once the president begins his speech and lays out a laundry list of accomplishments and goals, the applause and lack of same become far more partisan. So Tuesday, you can expect denizens of the Democratic side of the room standing and applauding often, even as the Republicans sit glumly and withhold their applause.
Truth be known, that is a far more accurate indication of the state of our union than the bipartisan applause that will greet Mr. Obama’s arrival.
To be sure, the state of the union is divided, and not just in two. Within the president’s own party, there are strident liberal objections to the use of drones to kill our perceived enemies, particularly if they are American citizens.
As for the Republicans, since their defeat in the last election, open antagonism has broken out between Tea Party purists and the Karl Rove pragmatists about the best ways to win back the presidency and Senate.
So, what can Obama say that would rally this Congress to get meaningful things done?
The way we see it, the president has perhaps his best opportunity to “go big” with initiatives, such as reforming immigration and our much-too-permissive gun laws. Next year, congressional elections will complicate seeing anything except through a political lens. By 2015, we’ll almost certainly have the 2016 presidential race in our sights.
We’d like to see the president forcefully advocate for ways to improve the economy and make meaningful changes to education, including universal preschool. We’d also like to see serious proposals to strengthen Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Even in this divided union, this might be Obama’s last real chance for success.