President Obama is set to deliver his fifth “State of the Union” address to a national television audience and a joint session of the Congress. Others will, no doubt, inspect each and every proposal made as they search for Ross Perot’s “devil in the details," but it is instructive to be reminded how little things have changed over 223 years and the first “State of the Union delivered in 1790 by President G. Washington.
I was reminded of that first “State of the Union” address by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin on a morning news/discussion program Sen. Manchin is an impressive individual and a conservative Democrat. I was privileged to be introduced to him several years ago by a mutual friend away from normal press – politician barriers. As he has moved from state to federal government, I have been impressed by his evenhanded approach to policy and how his head is firmly attached to his shoulders.
In the first address, President Washington argued for a disciplined, but well-funded peacetime military and support for industry to keep it supplied. He also asked for sufficient funding to fund foreign affairs.
Washington saw a need to defend the borders and punish those who would violate them. At the same time, the President saw it as an imperative that a “uniform rule of naturalization” be established that it might be “expedient” for new immigrants to join in the rights and privileges of citizenship.
On the economy and credit, the President urged that currency, weights, measures, and infrastructure in the form of roads and postal communications “be duly attended to.” There must be, he said “adequate provision for the support of the public credit is a matter of high importance to the national honor and prosperity.” He added a hope for “equal reliance on the cheerful cooperation” of both branches of the legislature."
"The advancement of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures by all proper means will not, I trust, need recommendation; but I cannot forbear intimating to you the expediency of giving effectual encouragement as well to the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home,” said President Washington.
On education, President Washington said “There is nothing which better deserves your patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness... In one in which government receives its impressions so immediately from the community, it is essential."
“Whether this desirable object will be best promoted by affording aids to seminaries of learning already established, by the institution of a national university, or by other expedients will be worthy of a place in the deliberations of the legislature,” said the President.
Two centuries have flown by since the first Presidential status report, yet the same issues remain on the negotiating table for resolution.
- The military should be funded adequately but with economy.
- Immigration should be facilitated and the borders defended.
- Infrastructure improvement (of new and different sorts) needs to be led by government.
- Business should be encouraged and ideas of others should be investigated and absorbed when it makes sense to do so.
- Government support to education is essential in the U.S. system of business and self- governance.
Thanks to the good Senator from West Virginia for pointing out how little national priorities have changed since Washington's time.