When Thomas Jefferson was President, he didn’t give a State of the Union. And it wasn’t until 26 Presidents later that Woodrow Wilson took up the tradition again. History reports that Jefferson thought it was too monarchial like the Speech from the Throne, the equivalent talk in the House of Parliament kicking off a new session.

The constitution requires a report to Congress. It doesn’t specific if it is in writing or delivered in a speech. Apparently Jimmy Carter did it once in a letter, and we’ll remember the time Ronald Reagan was supposed to do it – but opted for a somber address from his desk to address a grieving nation about the Challenger disaster (he gave the Congressional address a week later).

We’ve come to expect the State of the Union, taking place again tonight, as an important message opportunity for the President to state his case. But does it?

Will we hear President Obama’s words, or watch the faces Justices of the Supreme Court and see if they ‘behave.’ We can wonder who will sit next to the First Lady (and of course, comment on her dress). And we can watch how the Republicans exercise their best catholic stand-up-sit-down-quickly skills, as Democrats do when there is the opposite in power. And we can hope to remember just one thing he said, if not the wonderful pauses that he masters with every address.

It’s hard enough to get into the voice of a leader and write to their style as speechwriters do every day. (Oh, sorry, you thought the President wrote his own speech?) But try to imagine a leader deciphering the hieroglyphics which must be the result of an entire cabinet trying to write a talk — just as they do in England. We know this to be true: In America, that would likely be treated as a speech to be tossed in the throne.

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