Solid material from Cato's Gene Healy:
The Constitution requires that the president "from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union." But it doesn't mandate the modern pageant of pomp, circumstance, and phony promises we suffer through every year.
In fact, for most of the Republic's first century, the SOTU was a modest, informational affair. Presidents sent the written address to Congress, to be read aloud by a clerk. That was thanks to President Jefferson, who thought delivering the speech before Congress assembled smacked too much of a king's "Speech from the Throne."
When the power-hungry Woodrow Wilson overturned the Jeffersonian tradition in 1913, one senator cursed the revival of "the old Federalistic custom of speeches from the throne," calling it a "cheap and tawdry imitation of English royalty."
When Obama had to make way for Lost, some lamented the fact that many Americans preferred trash TV over presidential enlightenment. But the public's lack of interest in the SOTU is actually a sign of political health.
When all eyes turn to the president, demanding he cure whatever ails us, the result is a dangerous concentration of federal power. Thus, it's good that our national talk-show host suffers from declining Nielsens.