There are so many things to react to in the president's speech, so I'll separate my comments out into different posts.
The State of the Union Address is an unusual performance where leaders from the different branches of government as well as guests gather together to listen the president share his thoughts on the current and future prospects of America. Regardless of which president is speaking, roughly half the officials in the room are from a different party yet they are expected to attend, occasionally clap and perhaps even get up on their feet to provide standing ovations when platitudes are pronounced or even policies they might disagree with are proposed. To not attend is deemed irreverent or irresponsible, to pout is considered childish and to not feign enthusiasm is either being a bad sport, being a showman, showing your neutrality or perhaps being honest.
While in future postings, I'll go into details about the President's statements, one thing struck me as rather peculiar -- the incredible risk of this entire activity. Gathered together for this performance are: the President, Vice-President, almost all of the cabinet, the Senate, the House of Representative, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff...
Usually at least one member of the cabinet (the designated survivor) is not present and a few members of Congress are located elsewhere. For this speech, the designated survivor was the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar.
It seems rather obvious that when almost the entire national political leadership is physically placed together under one roof, our government takes on huge risk with little return.
• What is the risk of this show? Any disaster terrorist scenario you can imagine whether it be biological, chemical, nuclear etc. where the target would be almost our entire national leadership.
• What would be the result of this disaster scenario? Chaos and a far greater challenge to our democracy than Sept 11th.
• What is gained in this SOTU address show? A pep rally speech.
• Who is this speech for? Assuming it is for the American people (or interested people from other countries), then we can view it on the TV, internet, news etc. regardless of whether there are 1000 people in the live audience or no one physically present.
• Why does the State of the Union speech require gathering nearly all of our national government? Obviously it doesn't and in the post-Sept 11th era we shouldn't take on incredible risks just for the sake of tradition, good publicity or riveting TV moments.
It is important for there to be frequent, clear and honest communication between the government and the public. We need to continue to see the government leaders using the internet, TV, radio, newspapers and public forums but there's no logical justification for the risk involved in gathering together nearly all of America's national leaders in one place at the same time.