Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

February 4, 2014

End of an error? The State of the Union campaign event needs to go

— — The State of the Union address to Congress is really just a routine presidential duty defined in Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1787-88: “He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

That simple requirement to update the Congress and recommend certain things the president thinks are important has evolved into the political orgy we now witness each year.

We have become accustomed to the spectacle of last week because that is the way the message has been delivered for a hundred years. However, there is no requirement for the president to actually appear before the Congress and orally deliver the message. And in fact, beginning with Thomas Jefferson’s first State of the Union in 1801 and lasting until William Howard Taft’s final message in 1912, the State of the Union was a written, often lengthy, report sent to Congress at the beginning of a new session of Congress.

It’s time to return to the more sensible and less hype-driven process of Jefferson through Taft, because instead of a restrained message addressing the problems the country faces and perhaps some discussion of the successes that it has experienced, for years we’ve been treated to a campaign event all dolled up into a grandiose political revue that is little more than an exercise in political expedience.

It is a stage perfectly set for the delivery of propaganda with no real-time truth detector. The president says whatever he wants to say, and with the possible exception of a sour expression on the face of someone in the audience, or an unacceptable verbal complaint like the one back in 2009, there is no contrary opinion expressed until after the speech when the opposition party responds. By that time, many have tuned out, and given the setting and the pomp, and the fact that people still respect the office enough to often accept a president at his word, the damage is pretty much done.

Remaining true to form, at this year’s address President Barack Obama did not let the opportunity pass without making sure he got his points across, even if they were at odds with reality.

No less a dependable source for advocating liberal positions than The Washington Post identified six of Mr. Obama’s claims that attracted the attention of fact-checkers, presenting them in “a guide through some of President Obama’s more fact-challenged claims.”

In one of them the president noted, “the more than eight million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.”

Subtracting the jobs created not by businesses, but by government, that number is actually 7.6 million, and that number is correct, as far as the claim goes. The Post says the net new jobs created during the Obama administration is 3.2 million, and that there are 1.2 million fewer jobs today than when the recession began in December 2007.

Further, Newsmax reports that by last April, the number of Americans on food stamps had grown by 16 million since January 2009, which is more than twice as many people as got jobs.

“Our deficits — cut by more than half,” Mr. Obama bragged.

However, according to The Post, ”the federal budget deficit has declined in half since 2009, from $1.3 trillion to about $600 billion, but that’s not much to brag about. The 2009 figure was not just a deficit Obama inherited from his predecessor, since it also reflected the impact of decisions, such as the $800 billion stimulus bill, enacted early in the president’s term.

“Moreover, the deficit soared in the first place because of the recession, so as the economy has improved, the deficit naturally decreased. The United States still has a deficit higher than it was in nominal terms and as a percentage of gross domestic product than it was in 2008 and a debt much greater as a percentage of the overall economy than it was prior to the recession.”

The only beneficiaries of this sort of event are the president and his fellow party members. Those who take the president at his word — and that certainly includes the millions of Americans who do not investigate what they read and hear — are less well informed than before the address.

One thing the president was accurate about was his intention to continue using executive orders to enact measures the Congress won’t pass, or to change them to his liking. Apparently, the former constitutional law lecturer doesn’t remember the full text of the authorizing language for the State of the Union, with emphasis on the phrase “recommend to their Consideration.” It does not say, “tell them the edicts he will issue if the Congress does not act.”

President Obama needs a remedial class in what the Constitution means. The executive and the legislative branches are co-equal, along with the judicial branch; the president cannot make law, dictate what laws Congress will pass, or alter laws he does not like.

Why won’t the congress stand up and defend its Constitutional prerogatives and obligations and make the president behave constitutionally?

James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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