Why the State of the Union Didn't Matter in 1973 [1973]

As I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this week, I have no album or any comics from 1973 to talk about and since I won’t break out of my routine to do an additional movie, I thought of something special this time. Only last week I looked at Obama’s State of the Union speech and I wondered if it wouldn’t be interesting to look at the State of the Union speech from 1973 by Richard Nixon to see what has changed in the last 40 years.

The basic state of our Union today is sound, and full of promise.

Starting off with hyperbole seems to be rule for these speeches. Remember everything about how people seemed to feel in 1973 in anything I looked at this week? “Promise” didn’t come up very often.

America continues to provide a better and more abundant life for more of its people than any other nation in the world. We have passed through one of the most difficult periods in our history without surrendering to despair and without dishonoring our ideals as a people.

Looking back, there is a lesson in all this for all of us. The lesson is one that we sometimes had to learn the hard way over the past few years. But we did learn it. That lesson is that even potentially destructive forces can be converted into positive forces when we know how to channel them, and when we use common sense and common decency to create a climate of mutual respect and goodwill.

Again, just like Obama today, Nixon then uses empty generalities that don’t mean anything and that whitewash really problematic issues. He doesn’t even make clear what the “difficult periods” were: the war in Vietnam or the protests against it? He even manages to make it sound like there is a lesson here, but what does that lesson really mean? Again, what are the “potentially destructive forces”? That sounds much more like he is talking about the protesters, basically claiming that there “potentially violent” protests were channeled into a “positive force,” i.e. the peace treaty. Add some “common sense” and “decency” and you get a “Daddy told you to be nice to other people”-morality that ignores far more than it admits.

By working together with the leaders of other nations, we have been able to build a new hope for lasting peace--for a structure of world order in which common interest outweighs old animosities, and in which a new generation of the human family can grow up at peace in a changing world.

Even if Nixon seems to imply that the U.S. is leading that process, he does not portray them here even close to the way Obama glorifies the U.S. as the leader of the world. But when does that “new generation” come around you say? Because that world has not arrived yet.

But we must never forget that nothing worthwhile can be achieved without the will to succeed and the strength to sacrifice.

Hard decisions must be made, and we must stick by them.

There is a reason why “no pain, no gain” is such a popular saying in our culture. We are always told that we have to suffer to achieve anything but that is just supposed to make us ignore that the conditions our culture makes us live in are unbearable and should be changed. If we accept the belief that suffering is part of our nature, we complain less or at least we don’t expect things to be different. Nixon does the same here, warning people that if they want improvement, they have to sacrifice something. He promises change, but in some way he promotes the status quo.

In the field of foreign policy, we must remember that a strong America--an America whose word is believed and whose strength is respected--is essential to continued peace and understanding in the world. The peace with honor we have achieved in Vietnam has strengthened this basic American credibility. We must act in such a way in coming years that this credibility will remain intact, and with it, the world stability of which it is so indispensable a part.

Maybe he really believed that. Could he have known that Vietnam would even now still be seen as the American nightmare, a shameful war that achieved nothing? I’m sure he thought he would always be remembered as the one who brought peace there, but he probably didn’t expect to be remembered for other things.

The policies which I will outline to the Congress in the weeks ahead represent a reaffirmation, not an abdication, of Federal responsibility. They represent a pragmatic rededication to social compassion and national excellence, in place of the combination of good intentions and fuzzy follow-through which too often in the past was thought sufficient.

Is there any meaning in those words? Is that more than political fluff?

In the field of economic affairs, our objectives will be to hold down taxes, to continue controlling inflation, to promote economic growth, to increase productivity, to encourage foreign trade, to keep farm income high, to bolster small business, and to promote better labor-management relations.

Even those somewhat specific goals are mostly unspecific.

In the area of natural resources, my recommendations will include programs to preserve and enhance the environment, to advance science and technology, and to assure balanced use of our irreplaceable natural resources.

Right, we all remember 1973 as the year where environmental policies were turned around for a better future for their kids.

In developing human resources, I will have recommendations to advance the Nation's health and education, to improve conditions of people in need, to carry forward our increasingly successful attacks on crime, drug abuse and injustice, and to deal with such important areas of special concern as consumer affairs. We will continue and improve our Nation's efforts to assist those who have served in the Armed Services in Vietnam through better job and training opportunities.

This is a theme that has not changed at all until today, this notion that you can “attack” crime or drug abuse and, best of all, injustice; that you shouldn’t try to work on the roots of the problem but just fight a superficial “war” on these things. How often are “wars on…” still proclaimed? Too often.

Working together--the Congress, the President and the people--I am confident that we can translate these proposals into an action program that can reform and revitalize American Government and, even more important, build a better life for all Americans.

That’s the good thing about politics and speeches: life just gets better and better every day.

Okay, enough with the snarky comments, that’s probably more anger than is appropriate. But comparing Obama and Nixon with 40 years between them, you can see that there are no big differences. Sure, Obama addresses some things that were unthinkable in 1973 and Nixon talks about things that are irrelevant today, but by and large their speeches are mostly the same: the U.S. is the best, life isn’t easy but together we can make it better. As earnest as their trying to sound, as pointless are those speeches to the reality of the people. I don’t think any State of the Union address between 1973 and 2015 would show big differences either.

I’m sorry if that ends 1973 on a rather sober note, but that’s what you get from politics. Still, I can’t wait to do another theme week, even if I don’t know if my enthusiasm is as infectious as I’d hope. See you in another year!