Once upon a time, a State of the Union speech occasionally produced something memorable. James Monroe, in his seventh try, came up with the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which would be the cornerstone of American foreign policy for decades.
Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the Four Freedoms in 1941, arguing that people “everywhere in the world” ought to enjoy freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Four years later, he proposed a second Bill of Rights, arguing that the first attempt neglected a government guarantee of equality in “the pursuit of happiness.”
Sometimes the “something memorable” was something everybody later would like to forget, such as Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” which he introduced in 1964. That war was subsequently lost but we’ve been paying for it since.
George W. Bush used his State of the Union speech in 2002 to identify three authentic enemies of the United States at that time, North Korea, Iran and Iraq – “states like these and their terrorist allies constitute an ‘axis of evil,’ arming to threaten the peace of the world.” He took considerable flak from the frightened nursemaids and nervous Nellies for saying it, though recent history has since treated his formulation with a certain sympathy, if not kindness.
Since then State of the Union orations have devolved into mere laundry lists and presidential letters to Santa, bearing little relevance to anything likely to happen.
FDR should have proclaimed a fifth freedom, the freedom from another State of the Union speech. It would have been an empty promise, but making expensive and expansive promises is what most presidents do. ...
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