January 29, 2014

State of the Union

Need to make an observation about the State of the Union. I've seen pieces by Matt Miller and another in Sunday's Washington Post. Miller argued for less hoopla and a compressed plan (like Herman Cain's 9-9-9-) and the other argued for bagging the speech and coming up with something like Prime Minister Question Time. I don't understand why the speech is so ritualized. With less show, the President could much more easily focus on content. I don't understand why the speech is still delivered without much of a nod to the 21st century—no music, no video, no projected slides. I think the speech is live Tweeted by presidential staff (#SOTUTweets ought to get the idea across; #SOTU will sample a broader range of opinion), it's certainly widely commented there and in other social media by opponents, supporters, media, and others, but there's nothing to make the speech really vital, really engaging. The day after this year's speech, Fast Company conributed the best original idea I've seen—The State of the Union should be a Product Demo.

Fast Company's pitch?

The crux of the problem is that Washington defines written legislation as policy’s end game, rather than product.

Think of when we celebrate policy changes --it’s typically at the bill signing, as the cameras flash and the historic pens are handed out. From a product manager’s perspective, that’s the equivalent of throwing yourself a launch party after writing the technical requirements.

I hope the White House speechwriters have seen this. It could bring about the kind of change I can get behind.


George Will helpfully provided the Constitutional requirement for the State of the Union and gives some of the history of how the speech came to its current state—

The Constitution laconically requires only that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Nothing requires “from time to time” to be construed as “every damn year.” Informing and recommending need not involve today’s tawdry ritual of wishful thinking by presidents unhinged from political reality and histrionics by their audiences. And must we be annually reminded that all presidents think that everything they want is “necessary and expedient”?