As Barack Obama puts the finishing touches on his final State of the Union address, a White House teaser reveals one of his planned props for the evening: “We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.”
Blame Woodrow Wilson.
Until Wilson, presidents stretching back to Jefferson had been content to fulfill their constitutional requirement to inform Congress about the state of the union in writing. In 1913, alas, Wilson elected to deliver his assessment in person. Speechwriters of both parties (I served my time in the George W. Bush years) have been embellishing ever since.
The spectacle is made for President Obama. After all, this is the man who strode out on a stage of foam Greek columns when he accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency. How appropriate that in his last State of the Union he now opts for the empty chair routine used to such derision by Clint Eastwood at the last Republican National Convention.