On the State of the Union Speech:
The origins are Constitutional: "The President 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." Article II, Sec. 3, U.S. Constitution
But...Presidents from Thomas Jefferson (elected 1800, first SotU in 1801) onward, for the next 112 years, delivered their reports in written form. The next President to appear before Congress was Woodrow Wilson, in 1913.
The first "national" SotU was in 1923, delivered in the well of Congress in 1923, and broadcast live via radio to large parts of the nation. The first President actually to call the speech "The State of the Union" was FD Roosevelt, in 1935.
This is the only time that our President addresses Congress directly, though of course many members of Congress attend the inaugural speeches. The difference is that for the SotU the Congress is the formal audience, and the rest of us are just onlookers. Other systems, such as the British, are very different. Tony Blair addresses the House of Commons, and answers questions at 12 noon for half an hour every Wednesday when Parliament is sitting.
Some thoughts on the speech itself:
George Bush seemed confident, but not comfortable. He spoke like a diction coach had told him to slow down, and to "en-NUN-ci-ate" every syllable.
He made several main points. One of the first was on immigration. This was a complex proposal, but he rushed through it.
America's immigration system is also outdated -- unsuited to the needs of our economy and to the values of our country. We should not be content with laws that punish hardworking people who want only to provide for their families, and deny businesses willing workers, and invite chaos at our border. It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country, and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists.
This was clearly intentional, so that the proposal could end as an applause line. But he proposed (1) guest workers, (2) no amnesty, (3) close borders to "drug traffickers and terrorists." That is a lot of stuff to cover in 5 seconds. He got his major applause line, but I wonder if people were scratching their heads.
On Social Security...this was the closest to "Question Time" in the British Parliament I have ever heard! Usually, members of the Congress either applaud, or just sit on their hands. But in this case, there were lots of cries of "no!" and shouts of disagreement when the President said that Social Security would be in trouble by 2027, and bankrupt by 2042. Very unusual to hear "NO!" during the SOTU address, but the President seemed to expect it. He was not flustered, where sometimes he IS flustered by hecklers he does not expect. But, in the transcript, no mention of the catcalls, though every "applause" line IS mentioned....
So here is the result: Thirteen years from now, in 2018, Social Security will be paying out more than it takes in. And every year afterward will bring a new shortfall, bigger than the year before. For example, in the year 2027, the government will somehow have to come up with an extra $200 billion to keep the system afloat -- and by 2033, the annual shortfall would be more than $300 billion. By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt. If steps are not taken to avert that outcome, the only solutions would be dramatically higher taxes, massive new borrowing, or sudden and severe cuts in Social Security benefits or other government programs.
The Democrats are apparently going to fight him on this, but I don't know why they have chosen to fight him on the specific date when Social Security will go bankrupt. No question of if, but only when. Voters are likely to side with the Republicans on this, unless Democrats come up with a clearer counterattack strategy.
Lots of ideological red meat for the religious right, on banning gay marriage, limiting stem cell research, etc.
Not much of a legislative agenda; much of his plan seems to be to invoke Constitutional amendments. Politically effective, but not an ambitious set of policy initiatives.
UPDATE: I have to agree with the guys at Jujitsu Generis....This isn't any fun. Why can't the Democrats say what they believe: The government is better at spending your money, for your own good, than you are? At least then we could have a debate. Calling a small mutual fund "roulette" is...sad.