I Never Watch The State of The Union Address, And You Shouldn’t Either

original-6913-1391004167-7(photocredit: Buzzfeed)

Let me begin this post by stating just how much I hate the modern State of the Union address. What was originally intended be a barebones message from the president to the Congress, typically read by the clerk of the House of Representatives to a joint session the legislative branch, has devolved into a spectacle that would make an MTV Sweet Sixteener blush.

But it wasn’t always this way. Presidents Washington and Adams did give live addresses to Congress, but Jefferson, famous for his meek voice and even meeker public speaking abilities, delivered a simple letter explaining how he was best carrying out the functions of the office. From then on out all presidents until Woodrow Wilson delivered their state of the union messages the Jeffersonian way.

What changed this humble recount of finances and priorities into a Super Bowl-style bash was the development of presidential populism, or using what Teddy Roosevelt called the attention-grabbing “bully pulpit” of the chief executive to cajole the public and the Congress into adopting his preferred programs.

For a hundred years since, every president has declared every number of miracles large and small (almost always large) that will come if the plebiscite would just give him more time, more power, and of course, more money.  You name it, they’ve promised. From fighting world war, ending poverty, controlling labor, regulating business, funding schooling, protecting the environment, defeating communism, ensuring health care for all, and every other subject that polls above 70%.

Though not entirely responsible for our ritualistic quadrennial overhyped presidential contests, where both nominees are demanded by the press and the people to promise everything to all people while not asking anything from anyone, the state of union has served to entrench our continually growing and growing expectations of an office that functionally can do less and less effectively.

It cannot be doubted that a main reason that opinion polls for the president and every political institution (except the military) are in the toilet is because our expectations of government far outpace its ability to deliver. In generations past, the process of electing a president was much akin to electing a county sheriff at the national level.

Nobody in the voting booth trying to decide on a sheriff’s election asks what the potential chief law enforcement officer’s “vision” for the county is, nor is the question “where does s/he want to take us as a county?” ever broached. All that is asked and all that is answered is how will the candidate best enforce the law in a fair, just, and impartial matter. And such was the presidency in a different time and place.

Not anymore. The president must be everyone’s mommy, daddy, psychologist, teacher, preacher, economist, investment guru, manufacturer, national healer, scientist, doctor, IT director, ceremonial speaker, motivational speaker, life coach, and any other obligatory role a bored and pondering press can conjure up. He must restore the climate, stop racism, end tyranny, heal the sick, teach the illiterate, fund innovation, run car companies, protect the children, stop gun violence, save the whales, change the internet, eliminate corruption, build mass transit, get rid of violence against women, stop discrimination against gays, transgendered people, the disabled, and eskimos. His is a mission statement that never ends because it must never end if the 24 news cycle is to survive.

But perhaps there will come a day soon where the Jeffersonian tradition of the tight-lipped chief executive returns from the dead. If Americans can once against find it within themselves to moderate their expectations from politicians, perhaps it will not be so long after that they moderate their expectations from government.

That, or at least its word count.

Boxer Out, And The Scramble To Replace The California Democrat in 2016 Is On

Senator Barbara Boxer, the powerful Democrat from California and longtime chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, will not be running for reelection to the US Senate in 2016. Asked by her eldest grandson in a video message to her supporters if she plans to step down in the next election, Boxer, who has held the seat since 1992, said that while she is “never going to retire [from politics]” she will not be seeking another Senate term.

Speculation about a possible retirement has been swirling around Boxer, 74, for sometime now and there is no shortage of young ambitious liberal political stars in the Golden State who look in the mirror every morning and see a future US senator. And while Republicans did make some gains in California in 2014, it is almost certain they will not be inaugurating a new junior senator in 2017.

(John Heilman of Bloomberg Politics has a good video on the matter here).

The names most often mentioned are Lt. Governor Gavin Newson and California Attorney General Kamila Harris. While both aim for higher office, they aren’t expected to run against each other in 2016 because they are friends and also share the same donor base. The most likely scenario is for Harris to run for Senate next year and for Newson to take over the governorship after sitting Governor Jerry Brown becomes term-limited out.

Eric Garceitti, the current mayor of Los Angeles, has already put out a statement that he will not seek Boxer’s seat.

Some more interesting potential candidates are former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the billionaire hedgefund manager cum environmental activist Tom Steyer.

Villaraigosa is popular in the state but his mayorship of the state’s largest city is considered less than stellar, with high debt and continually degrading public services. Politico is reporting that the ex-mayor has resigned his position at Edlemen public relations firm, signaling a possible return to politics.

Were Tom Steyer to run he would have an immediate cash advantage which would allow him to forgo most fundraising obligations. In 2014, Steyer spent tens of millions of dollars supporting pro-environmentalist candidates but it was mostly considered a waste since his most of his candidates that weren’t already in safe districts lost.

It is also unclear whether Steyer can unite the party’s wealthier progressive base whose’ positions on issues like energy are diverging from it’s working-class allies who are centrist and concerned about jobs and lower living costs. The fact that Steyer is a billionaire could also harm the party’s image as a champion for the poor and would provide a significant opening for either a centrist Democrat or a Republican to mobilize populist support against a rich San Francisco liberal.

The GOP, for its part, has become an endangered species in the state in the last two decades and is unlikely to field a candidate capable of winning the seat. The best the party can hope for is an extremely crowded Democratic field that will split the vote enough so that a weaker general election candidate will face off against a Republican with unified party support and enough sway with independents and moderate Democrats.

Where this Republican will come from is anyone’s guess. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who ran against Boxer in 2010 and lost by double digits, has already ruled out a second run as she prepares for a possible presidential campaign.

Update: California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has made a public announcement on Monday that he will not be running for Boxer’s seat in 2016. This makes a run by state Attorney General Kamila Harris more likely.