Night of nonsense
In the 12 months we have to steel ourselves for the next State of the Union spectacle, let us count the ways that this spawn of democratic Caesarism — presidency-worship — has become grotesque. It would be the most embarrassing ceremony in the nation's civic liturgy were the nation still capable of being embarrassed by its puerile faith in presidential magic.
The Constitution laconically requires only that the president “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.” Nothing requires “from time to time” to be construed as “every damn year.”
Informing and recommending need not involve today's tawdry ritual of wishful thinking by presidents unhinged from political reality and histrionics by their audiences.
It is beyond unseemly, it is anti-constitutional for senior military officers and, even worse, Supreme Court justices to attend these political rallies where, with metronomic regularity, legislators of the president's party leap to their feet to whinny approval of every bromide and vow. Members of the other party remain theatrically stolid, thereby provoking brow-furrowing punditry about why John Boehner did not rise (to genuflect? salute? swoon?) when Barack Obama mentioned this or that.
Tuesday night, the justices, generals and admirals, looking as awkward as wallflowers at a prom, at least stayed seated. Except for Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito, who stayed away. They missed a clunker of a speech, although the tedium was not much worse than usual and was redeemed by clarifying three things.
• First, Obama's declaration that nothing in his long list of proposed spending “should” — should? — “increase our deficit by a single dime” means there should be commensurate tax increases.
• Second, now that he has proclaimed that government “must keep the promises we've already made,” only the uneducable can still believe he will consider entitlement reforms.
• Third, by saying spending cuts under the sequester would be “harsh” and would “devastate” domestic programs, he made applesauce of those two words:
The cuts would remove only $85 billion from this year's almost $3.6 trillion budget. And over a decade they would cut just $1.2 trillion from projected spending of $46 trillion. And spending this year would still be well above the post-1945 norm as a percentage of gross domestic product.
State of the Union addresses are now integral to the apotheosis of the presidency. If government is going to be omniprovident, modern presidents are going to be omnipresent, and politics is going to be infantile.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.