The Real State Of The Union

by Conor Friedersdorf

Unlike every president in memory, I'll level with you:

– Adults and even children are being raped with impunity by people who aren't punished even when they're caught.

– Lockheed Martin is imprudently, alarmingly large and powerful.

– Sex slavery is surprisingly common.

– Our southern neighbor is beset by murder and mayhem, partly due to our failed drug prohibition policies.

– We're spending much more money than we're taking in, and the interest on the debt alone is getting increasingly burdensome. Our most popular entitlements, as currently constituted, are wildly unsustainable.

– Due to a federal government whose scope far exceeds the expectations of the framers, the presidency is an unmanageable job.

– Our largest state is being bankrupted by a pension crisis that isn't likely to be fixed.

– Paramilitary forces routinely break into the homes of Americans with battering rams, and with surprising frequency they get the wrong address, shoot pets, or injure or kill people who are innocent of any crime.

There's a lot of other bad news. Improving as a nation requires us to acknowledge it as a first step. Feel good national moments come easy. We're richer than most everyone else. We win gold medals at the Olympics. Our hour long television dramas eventually bring their protagonists together in the romances we've wanted to see happen all along. Our beer improves in quality every year. So it isn't feel good moments that we require from our president. Instead he or she ought to use the bully pulpit to force us to confront serious problems – especially ones that the average American doesn't even know about.

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It isn't any surprise that instead we get a SOTU address designed to cast the president in a likable light. But I wish pundits would stop judging the speech by that metric. Surely we can imagine fantastic iterations on this annual civic tradition. Judging presidents on the risky, civically enlightening speech they might've given – and labeling anything less a disappointment – would tranform the political calculus. Expect more, get more. Decide that anything better than the status quo is an unrealistic expectation, and it will never happen.