5 things about the State of the Union.

Author:Benac, Nancy
Position::News
 
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Byline: Nancy Benac

WASHINGTON -- With the State of the Union address being delivered tonight, it's time to set the record straight on a few things: Yup, Bill Clinton really was the most long-winded. Nope, it doesn't have to be a speech. And, in truth, this "annual'' event doesn't happen every year. Five things to know about the SOTU:

IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A SPEECH

The Constitution says 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.'' George Washington and John Adams did it in person. But Thomas Jefferson thought that looked too much like a British monarch issuing orders to Parliament, so he decided to check in via written report instead. Presidents stuck to that strategy until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson decided it was too impersonal, according to Gerhard Peters, co-director of the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It's typically been a speech ever since, with the exceptions of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

CLINTON TAKES TOP HONORS -- SORT OF

Clinton's reputation for being long-winded is deserved. The Presidency Project tallied up the length of every State of the Union delivered via speech since Lyndon Johnson, and Clinton's average is tops: 1 hour, 14 minutes, 51 seconds. But lots of presidents have gone on far longer if you go strictly by word count -- spoken or written. Clinton's average word count was 7,426. William Howard Taft, who reported in writing, routinely topped 22,000 words. That's a whole lot of mission creep from Washington, whose first State of the Union speech was 1,089 words.

AN ANNUAL EVENT: NOT EXACTLY

Nowhere is it written that the State of the Union has to be done yearly. That's just what evolved from the constitutional directive to report "from time to time.'' The last four outgoing presidents -- Bush, Clinton, Bush and...

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