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When did the State of the Union become a red carpet event?

The Constitution directs the president to periodically brief Congress about the nation's needs. But not until Woodrow Wilson did a president deliver an address in person – and launch a tradition that is now in large part theater.

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When did the State of the Union address become Washington's version of the Oscars?

No, Decoder knows that the president does not stand before a joint session of Congress and hand out statues honoring "Best Appropriation in a Supporting Role."

But the State of the Union message is in the Constitution, for goodness' sake. The Founding Fathers themselves thought it a good idea for the chief executive periodically to brief lawmakers on the nation's needs. And what we get now, as much as substance, is ceremony: the walk down the aisle, the scripted applause, and recognition of heroes in the balcony.

"A relatively serious moment in American governance has become a bilateral infomercial," says Lewis Gould, professor emeritus of history at the University of Texas, Austin.

This is not about President Obama – or President Bush or any individual chief executive. It's about a trend that began in 1913, when Woodrow Wilson resumed the practice of giving the address in person.


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