Every president has given this annual report to Congress in some form. George Washington gave the address in person but Thomas Jefferson thought it too kingly to do that, so he just sent it in writing. It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson that the personal speech was revived, and subsequent presidents gave the speech on radio and television as the technologies were born.
Many historical happenings have been discussed in the State of the Union Address: the Monroe Doctrine, the freedom of slaves by Lincoln, denunciation of corporations and communism and sex scandals involving interns. The speech is now widely watched, analyzed and quoted by all of society.
Following the federal model, the State of the State is given by many governors for the same purposes. A lot of governors gave their speeches in the weeks before the Big Speech by the president, including the first by new Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. And on the bottom rung of the governmental ladder, many smaller government entities also have their “state of” speeches, most recently our own humble school district.
Each speech has its unique time and place in history. The remarks are specific to the challenges and accomplishments of their given place in governance, but otherwise the state of whatever is fairly generic. They usually start with a bunch of welcomes to various guests, usually people who are the embodiment of the issues to be discussed in the speech. This can include victims of violence, soldiers, students and the like. Then, the speech giver will go into a description of things as they are: fiscal follies, moral quagmires, political stalemates, tear-jerking triumphs and desperate struggles.
All this, of course, leads in to the president’s/governor’s/superintendent’s plan of how to solve their world’s ills. President Obama talked about governmental reorganization; Gov. Sandoval talked about cuts to education; Superintendent Heath Morrison talked about recruiting effective educators and working together. All ideas have their merits and shortcomings, but in today’s world of quickly spinning public relations machines the ideas often get lost in a whirlwind of pomp and circumstance.
It helps all of us to have these moments in which we can step back, evaluate what we’re doing and develop fresh ideas about the same old thing. I often find that attending professional workshops and seminars gives me the chance to mingle with fellow journalists and hear lectures from others with the goal of gleaning ideas I can take back to my own operation. I get to recharge my battery, to use a tired cliche. Last year, I attended a conference of the Society of Professional Journalists in Las Vegas and got a bunch of ideas. A few of them I actually incorporated into my newsroom to some success. It is my hope to go again next year in New Orleans. Is it my fault they hold it in exciting towns?
However, as I sit at home typing this column, I look to my right and see in the corner a book bag with the organization’s logo — one of the freebies you always get at such a seminar — stuffed with books and papers with even more ideas and inspiration. I have moved that bag around a bit as I cleaned the house but there is still a treasure trove of ideas in there as soon as I get around to it.
I wonder if Obama or Sandoval or Morrison have their own book bag of ideas that they shuffle around their offices. Maybe that’s what their “state of” speeches are: a book bag of ideas that are great and exciting at the time but get lost in the corner during everyday activity. I know I’d be better off if I dedicated myself to poking through that bag for other ideas at least once a week.
I hope these leaders keep copies of their speeches with them to review regularly so they can remember the ideas that were important enough to write down and say from a podium to their constituents.
Sure, there will be a lot of useless rhetoric to cut through but there will also be a lot that is worth a second look. After all, “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” “If we have the courage to make the tough decisions, and there will be many, we will succeed” and “Our work is nowhere near finished.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go dust off that book bag.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.