| Steven R Hurst |
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama takes the dais in the House of Representatives on Tuesday to tell a joint session of Congress, Cabinet members, judicial and military dignitaries and a national television audience about his plans for the coming year and, perhaps, to brag a little about the economic rebound that has pushed up his approval ratings toward 50 per cent.
He will be giving a report on The State of the Union, an assessment mandated by the US Constitution.
George Washington, the first president, gave the first such report in person to Congress in 1790. But his successors in the office, until Woodrow Wilson in 1913, chose to give their reports in writing. Those reports were often stodgy, laden with details on national income and spending.
Some big deals :
James Monroe, in 1823, used his report to warn European nations to end their practice of colonisation in the Western hemisphere. The Monroe Doctrine, as it became known, long was a bedrock concept in US foreign policy.
Abraham Lincoln told the nation in 1862, during the American Civil War, that he wanted to end slavery.
With World War II looming, Franklin D Roosevelt used his 1941 address to outline the “Four Freedoms” — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson announced his war on poverty.
Four months after the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington, President George W Bush outlined plans for a “war on terror”.
But things have changed :
The State of the Union address has become a highly charged political event that sees members of Congress in the president’s party standing again and again to applaud while the opposition party sits, often glowering at a president’s applause lines.
And it has seen presidents make proposals that prove little more than fantasy, witness Ronald Reagan’s call for a missile defence shield — Star Wars — to protect against nuclear attack or Obama’s vision of one million electric cars on US roads by this year.
The address, since Harry S Truman first used the then-new medium of television in 1947, has become a major media event where the president can talk past the Washington power establishment and reach out directly to tens of millions the Americans. Interestingly, as American politics has become ever-more polarised along party lines, the audience for the State of the Union speech has fallen dramatically.
In 2010, Obama used his address to criticise the Supreme Court — with members of the high court in attendance — over the top judicial body’s decision that lifted limits on campaign donations by corporations and labor unions.
Some history :
First radio broadcast was by Calvin Coolidge in 1923.
First television broadcast was by Harry Truman in 1947.
First televised evening delivery was by Lyndon Johnson in 1965.
First live webcast on Internet: President George W Bush, 2002.