“No man can well doubt the propriety of placing a president of the United States under the most solemn obligations to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution.” Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution
The Constitution requires the President of the United States to give Congress information about “the state of the Union.” This presidential report was meant as one of the checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches. Every other president has been respectful of the other branches during the annual address—except for this president. For example, in 1862, Abraham Lincoln wrote, “I do not forget the gravity which should characterize a paper addressed to the Congress of the nation by the Chief Magistrate of the nation, nor do I forget that some of you are my seniors, nor that many of you have more experience than I in the conduct of public affairs. Yet I trust that in view of the great responsibility resting upon me you will perceive no want of respect to yourselves in any undue earnestness I may seem to display.”
President Obama, on the other hand, uses the State of the Union Address to belittle the other two branches. He lectures those who have offended his sensitivities or voiced disagreement … and threatens all who exercise their constitutional powers to oppose his agenda. He is certain that his path is the sole course for the country. “The American people know what the right choice is. So do I.” In other words, oppose me, and you oppose not me, but the American people.
President Obama must believe the state of the union is copacetic—If I’m allowed to borrow a piece of slang from the depression era. He says, “the state of our Union is getting stronger.” He lauded his progress in world affairs, and described a resurgent economy unrecognizable to most Americans who live outside the booming environs of the beltway. But no one is allowed to disagree. He regally stated that, “anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”
The message is clear: if you disagree, you are against the American people or ignorant.
In his report on the State of the Union he avoided mentioning what might be his most lasting impact on our nation: he has weakened our constitutional form of government by taking imperial action whenever Congress rudely balks at approving his schemes. Actually, he did mention it by promising more of the same. “With or without this Congress, I will keep taking actions that help the economy grow.” That’s good to know because his actions have worked so well to date.
To wrap things up, President Obama related the nation to Seal Team 6. It was an odd end to a shoddy speech. He was celebratory of Seal Team 6 successes, while at the same time calling on citizens to back their Commander-in-Chief as he charges “into darkness and danger.” If he wants us to watch his back, then he needs to face in another direction.
All three branches are meant to be equal, so the president does not appear before congress as a supplicant, but neither does the State of the Union Address provide a captured audience so the president can scold those who have expressed disagreement with his policies. The fact that President Obama stoops to this kind of behavior is an indicator that his persuasive skills are highly over-rated. The State of the Union Address under Obama has become a farce and has greatly diminished the office of the President of the United States. As a supposed constitutional scholar, President Obama should be ashamed.
James D. Best is the author of the Steve Dancy Tales and Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Look for his forthcoming book, Principled Action, Lessons from the Origins of the American Republic.