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What I'd Like to Hear in The State of The Union Address

by on January 23, 2014 6:25 AM

Next week the President will deliver his annual State of The Union address, an exercise in our government that was prescribed in the Constitution.

Article 2 Section 3

"He 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"

First, note the assumption that the President will always be a "he". I'll give the founding fathers a pass since at the time only white men could vote and it was a safe bet on their part that the President would be a man for the foreseeable future.

The State of The Union, which began as a simple exercise required at uncertain intervals, has now become an annual event. For days in advance the media's political talking heads debate what will be or what should be in the speech. Will there be bold new proposals or initiatives? Will the President reach across the aisle? How will the two sides spin the speech? Will the President's poll numbers bounce up or trend downward?

And those are just the questions that loom before the speech.

But honestly, State of The Union speeches are generally remarkable for being mostly not memorable. The one common thread is that every President does seem to work one phrase into every State of The Union — and I'll bet it shows up again next week.

"The State of Our Union is Strong."

The State of The Union has evolved partly into a Presidential Pep Rally with certain lines delivered to get elected officials out of their seats and clapping. On partisan issues it is easy to see who is on which side of the aisle. On the non-partisan issues like protecting our children and defending our country they all stand up and clap.

As next week's address approaches I started to think about what I'd most like to hear in the State of The Union and from both parties afterward.

I want to hear that the next year will bring sincere dialogue among mature elected officials. I'd like to see true dialogue, not what we have now with the two sides talking past each other.

Just once I want to hear someone on one side of the aisle say something like this;

"You know I just listened, actually listened, to my colleagues from the other party and found out they make some very valid points. I can see this particular issue in a different light. We don't agree on everything but we've found a lot of common ground and I look forward to working together."

Next week in the State of The Union I'd like to hear new ideas that will include all voices. We'll have our differences but it is time for leadership to accept the reality; we live in a nation that should welcome and celebrate the freedom to have a diversity of opinions. All too often we live in echo chambers watching media that reinforces our opinions, and spending time only talking with people who already agree with us. We isolate our opinions into that which makes us comfortable.

That isolation of opinion in our lives only galvanizes and hardens our stances.

I would hope that the State of The Union challenges us to get out of our echo chambers. Only by listening to people with perspectives different from ours can we ever hope to gain a true appreciation for the beliefs they hold. That appreciation leads to respect and only mutual respect can build trust and cooperation when it is badly needed.

No one ever responds to derision. That is not leadership.

Too often what passes for leadership in 2014 is holding up the Constitution as a weapon to defend all-or-nothing stances on the issues. What people forget in doing so, is that the very document they wield is the product of dramatic and lengthy give-and-take compromise, creating a system of government that for over two centuries has been the envy of the world.

I want to hear someone go on a cable news network and say "Yes, we formed a consensus to get this bill done. Before you start scoring which party won and which one lost, can you pundits just give up the scorekeeping and see what we were able to accomplish for the people we are here to serve? The people are the winners on this new bill and the only losers are those who love the partisan gridlock."

I guess what I really want to hear in next week's State of The Union is a true commitment, a damn-the-torpedoes full speed ahead attitude toward actual non-partisan accomplishment of tangible and beneficial legislation to tackle our biggest problems. That is the American dream.

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State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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