The Moment

1|25|11: Washington

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For 112 years, until 1913, Presidents delivered their State of the Union addresses to Congress in writing. Woodrow Wilson decided to do it in person, and almost every President has done so since. The speech was given during the day until LBJ turned it into a prime-time occasion. The parties always sat primly apart. It was only under Ronald Reagan that the State of the Union morphed into a showbiz event (what Chief Justice John Roberts has likened to a "pep rally") complete with dueling standing ovations. The idea this year of bipartisan seating--an across-the-aisle congressional date night--was a gimmick, but a perfectly fine one. Many old Washington hands have bemoaned the fact that Republicans and Democrats don't socialize as they once did. Tip O'Neill used to say that partisanship stopped at 6 o'clock, the cocktail hour. But friendliness across the aisle matters only if it helps Congress accomplish something. Given the choice between a buddy-buddy Congress that accomplishes nothing and one with frosty relations that gets stuff done, the American people would unhesitatingly choose the latter.