Teachers of history, civics, and government may choose to play and discuss President Obama's State of the Union Address given this week to a joint session of Congress and to the nation. The State of the Union address can be used to illustrate the following concepts:
The checks and balances system in the Constitution. The president must report on the state of the Union annually. It also provides a forum for the president to outline his legislative agenda. It also gives him a "bully pulpit" from which he can explain to the nation his position on key issues. President Obama promised to veto bills that do not support his proposed spending freeze. We also saw the president criticize the Supreme Court's recent ruling to declare campaign finance limits as unconstitutional, saying it would open the floodagtes to the influence of foreign corporations on US elections. As a reaction right there during the speech, Justice Samuel Alito silently responded "that's not true." For those on the left, it seemed like a more restrained version of Congressman Joe Wilson's "you lie!" outburst.
The role of the Executive Branch in government. The role of the Executive is to carry out the laws passed by Congress, but the Executive Branch can also suggest the direction Congress should go in creating those laws.
The Legislative Process (how a bill becomes a law). We are seeing this topic unfold in the debate over health care reform. The president asked the Republican Party to end its legislative obstructionism even though the Senate can now bottle up any legislation by way of the filibuster. The election of Republican Scott Brown from Massachusetts can now prevent any successful cloture vote on the part of the Democrats as he holds the 41st Republican vote needed to block such a legislative action.
The two-party system and their ideological differences can be shown by airing the speech as well as the Republican response, given this year by newly elected Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Students should be asked to apply each party's idological platform to the proposals seen in each speech to understand the basis of contemporary American political culture.
Teachers can play the speech using C-Span or on video tape if they were proactive enough to tape it. Students should be asked to take notes and respond in debate or written format to show they understand the content and importance of the State of the Union Address.
Until next time,
Teacher, Author, Webmaster