Tonight is the definitive political dog-and-pony show: the State of the Union Address. An evening where essentially warring factions of state and federal government pile into a room and attempt to play nice for an hour-or-so, the degree of dissent coming mainly in the form of rigid-smirks and applause-refusal.
It often appears to the American public as an obsolete formality—a relic of our government history continued for the sake of tradition, with little impact on the political landscape. A campaign speech for a sitting-President, if you will. Promises are made, dividing-lines are drawn, bad puns are made for levity’s sake, and nothing really changes for John Q. Public.
As procedural as the State of the Union seems, the speech is still considered an important rhetorical tool for the policy-shaping practices of the executive branch. The setting itself—an audience comprised of government officials, an international broadcast audience—means that each and every word will be scrutinized ad-nauseam, and The President will be held accountable and taken to task for any misrepresentation of facts, figures or intent.
A carefully vetted speech draws a line in the sand regarding policy and sets the starting point at the negotiating table. By using this forum to announce priorities; allies, adversaries and the American people are made aware of what’s in the pipeline for the coming year.
President Obama has experienced a surge in approval-ratings in recent weeks, so it will be interesting to see what issues are presented this evening. The State of the Union Address may seem a vacuous exercise in political theater to many, but in the governmental trenches, it is still an important aspect of crafting law.