The Daily Grind (SOTU Edition)
1:28 PM, Jan 27, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
It is on this day that it's important to give your readers "fun facts" about the State of the Union address because, even though it is steeped in the glorious history and tradition of this great nation, let's face it—it's not that fun on its own.
So, here we go! We have Woodrow Wilson to blame for the fact that Obama and Congress must now negotiate their schedules around the premiere of "Lost" in order to bring a stultifying speech into the homes of the American people. Wilson was the first president of the modern era to deliver his SOTU in person to a joint session of Congress, in 1913.
Before then, it was usually delivered in written form, per this requirement from the Constitution: "He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."
Washington and Adams addressed Congress in person, but Thomas Jefferson considered the in-person address too monarchical in style and discontinued it.
Bill Clinton gave, by far, the longest State of the Union addresses, clocking in at 1 hour and 28 minutes in 2000.
Richard Nixon gave the shortest in-person SOTU address, delivering a merciful 29-minute speech in 1972. In one of the few acts of the Carter presidency that I'll praise, he turned in a written SOTU in 1981. Other presidents have chosen not to give an address at all in the January they are to leave office.
Here's a list of the citizens recognized by presidents during the SOTU. This is my favorite part of the speech because it generally salutes the ingenuity, self-reliance, bravery, and kindness of regular Americans, most of whom are people who do extraordinary things independent of government programs (See Lenny Skutnik and Wesley Autry, the Subway Angel). As such, it's generally the only part of the speech that's both inspiring and comes without a bill attached.
Tonight, Sgts. Mark Todd and Kimberly Munley (a fellow N.C. native) will be recognized for their bravery in taking out the Ft. Hood shooter before he could do even more damage.
Flipping through the list of those recognized, I remembered Reagan recognized a 13-year-old who started a non-profit for the homeless, an 11-year-old safety patrol officer who saved fellow students from a runaway bus, and a 12-year old musical prodigy in 1986. Trevor Ferrell still works with the homeless in Philadelphia, Shelby Butler grew up to be an advocate for people with disabilities. Tyrone Ford, the young Gospel singer/choir director, took the sad path of many young celebrities, falling into drugs and crime.
Nancy Reagan helped get him into a drug-rehab program several years after he was mentioned in the SOTU, but he experienced another (more dubious) brush with fame when he got caught apparently stealing Marion Barry's car in 1993. His whereabouts are left out of this "Where are they now?" piece from the Washington Post on the occasion of Reagan's death, and the Post has had little to say about him since.
That's not exactly a fun fact, so back to something more light. There will be two Cabinet members missing from tonight's address, as Hillary Clinton will be in London and the designated hold-back will be in an "undisclosed location." And, here's the list of Cabinet members not in attendance through the years.
Having said all this, of course I'll be watching tonight. Tune in for the Standard coverage, which I dare say will be more fun than the actual speech.