Monday, January 28, 2008

State of Distraction

It started this morning when The Washington Post’s story on President Bush’s impending State Of The Union Address included the following curious sentence:

“That is the problem Bush faces as he prepares to deliver his seventh and probably final State of the Union address tonight.”

It’s the phrase “probably final” that raised more than a few eyebrows, since the President’s second and constitutionally mandated final term will have expired by this time next year.

David Kurtz picked up on what he presumed to be excessive journalistic hedging over at Talking Points Memo, but I wrote the whole thing off to spotty editing at the time, though I wondered about the “seventh” thing, since you’d expect this to be his eighth SOTU, but then I saw that stripping PETA chick, and I forgot all about it.

Then this afternoon, I heard NPR’s Jack Speer call tonight’s speech Bush’s “likely final” State of the Union. Somebody must have talked to him because NPR’s streaming newscast omits the “likely” and has Speer emphasizing the word “final”. Shortly thereafter, Lynn Neary, while doing a promo for tomorrow’s Morning Edition opened with “He’s done it seven times before”, implying that this was the President’s eighth SOTU address. So, what gives? Is this his last one, and how many has he done before?

Interestingly, there’s no real provision in the constitution setting either the time or frequency of the SOTU. In fact, there isn’t even a constitutional requirement that the address be delivered in person. Article II says simply “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.” George Washington, apparently, established the tradition of giving said information in the form of a speech, and giving it in person. Thomas Jefferson took a less formal approach, and simply sent congress a written report annually. It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson in the twentieth century that executives stated giving the address in person again.

This is by way of saying that technically, this is Bush’s “probably final” SOTU, but there’s no constitutional reason that the President couldn’t give another one in a week, a month, or later this year. He could, in theory, squeeze in one more assault on the english language just before he leaves office next year. In 1961, for example, Eisenhower sent a written report to congress just before his term expired, and John Kennedy delivered a SOTU shortly after he took office. No president since Jimmy Carter, however has delivered an address just before leaving office. I doubt W will be looking to him for precedent. So, barring something crazy, this is probably our last chance to see Mr. Bush speak on the floor of Congress with our dark overlord Cheney hovering over his right shoulder.

As far as the question of how many addresses W has given, it turns out that he didn’t give an official SOTU in 2001, so this will be his seventh such address.

For those of you keeping score, WAPO and Jack Speer were right, Lynn Neary and, to a lesser extent, David Kurtz, were wrong.

Also, that PETA chick is taking her clothes off.

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