Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
Anniston (Alabama) Star on presidential words:
For more than 110 years starting in 1801 and ending in 1913, presidents of the United States submitted their view of where the nation stands via a letter. From Thomas Jefferson until Woodrow Wilson's 1913 address, presidents skipped the grand spectacle of speaking at length to a joint session of Congress to deliver what's now known as the State of the Union.
Since the advent of the televised presidency, only one president has resorted to the printed form and that was in 1981 when outgoing President Jimmy Carter submitted a letter of more than 30,000 words. About a month later, new President Ronald Reagan brought us back to normal, delivering a State of the Union before senators, representatives and assorted dignitaries.
Over the past 34 years, presidents have never looked back, all preferring to deliver a speech on the condition of the country and their plans to make it better. Don't expect them to give up this face-time in front of TV cameras any time soon.
What chief executive would forgo the opportunity to dominate our cacophonous news cycle for 24 to 36 hours? In an era of reality shows, social media and a million other distractions, the presidential bully pulpit isn't what it once was. And each White House must use what it can.
A State of the Union address is one of those rare times when a good portion of the public lends an ear to what our president has to say. Some listen for inspiration and the promise of better days. Others listen to confirm what they already believe -- that this president is the wrong man for the job. Either way, they listen, as do most senators and representatives who generally act as political weather vanes, standing and cheering at what they like and sitting stone-faced at what they disapprove of.
Very little of what a modern president says in a State of the Union comes as a surprise to official Washington. The policies are typically field-tested, shopped around through the halls of Congress and/or doled out in public appearances by the president in the weeks leading to the big speech.
That's what President Barack Obama has done over the past six weeks, promoting the plans that mostly made up Tuesday's speech. These include tuition breaks for community college, tax breaks for middle-class Americans, tax increases for the wealthy and guaranteeing paid sick leave for U.S. workers among other items.
In a healthier democracy, lawmakers of all political stripes and the president would hammer out the details of these proposals. A certain give and take would result in a compromise that is agreeable to a large swath of the Congress and beneficial to Americans. Don't count on that happening.
Such notions seem as outdated as the premise of a president writing down on parchment with a feathered quill pen his view of where the United States stands at the moment.
Decatur (Alabama) Daily on MLK's unity breakfast:
The Rev. James Doggette Sr. came to the 22nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast with a message of "activism." He told the crowd of nearly 350 that it's time to stop complaining, to find solutions and get up, get out and do something. He emphasized it's easy to protest, but questioned: What is the "end game" — or the long-term result — that we seek?
Boys Nation national President Matthew Ellow, the first speaker at a breakfast that celebrates the legacy of the slain civil rights leader King, offered another message: change.
Ellow, of Lacey's Spring and a senior at Brewer High, said he didn't always follow directives, from his parents nor his teachers or JROTC commander. He said there was a recent time in high school when folks thought he wouldn't graduate. But through his faith and others who would not give up on him, Ellow told high school and college students he made a decision to turn his life around.
Last year he went to Washington, D.C., and impressed enough to be elected president of a prestigious Boys Nation organization that teaches students about the processes of the federal government. He since has met with President Barack Obama twice and shaken the hand of former President Bill Clinton.
The message for everyone at Ingalls Harbor Pavilion on Monday was this: Our kids matter, and our community cares. And we say thanks to the speakers and the outstanding work done by the Decatur-Morgan County Minority Development Association. A lot of hard work and fundraising go into putting on a program as such.
The greatest satisfaction for the DMDA was seeing the smiles on the students' faces when they walked to the stage to pick up their scholarship certificates. Combined, the DMDA and Daikin America handed out more than $40,000. Daikin awarded $20,000 and the DMDA $26,500.
The DMDA's scholarships were awarded based on need, and believe us, there's a lot of financial need in Decatur-Morgan County's households. There were some tear-jerking stories from the 30-plus students who interviewed one on one before a panel of community and Decatur City Schools leaders Saturday.
The students came well-prepared, with some even sharing valuable life lessons learned from their first semesters of college. One student, who was awarded a scholarship for the second straight year, reported back he had a 4.0 GPA in engineering at Tuskegee University.
Thanks, DMDA, for another job well done and reminding this community our kids matter.
Dothan (Alabama) Eagle on Gov. Bentley's routine:
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley took the oath of office on Monday, beginning his second term with a promise to "change Alabama for the better."
The conspicuously smaller-than-expected crowd may have telegraphed the message that the people of our state have heard that message before. Every governor has talked a good game after taking the oath, when there are throngs of Alabamians before them eagerly nodding at their every point. However, once inside the big white building atop Goat Hill, it's back to business as usual.
To be fair, Bentley has made some comments that would suggest he plans to address some of the state's more urgent challenges. While opposing new taxes, he's made some parsing statements about the need to address an overwhelming shortfall in the state's General Fund. He's softened a bit from his hard line against expanding Medicaid, and even sent a message to Attorney General Luther Strange saying the state can't afford to maintain its aggressive campaign to ferret out illegal gambling, an interesting development given some lawmakers' consideration of a compact with Poarch Creek Indians to generate revenue from tribal casino earnings.
We give the governor the benefit of a doubt, and support his determination to correct some of the ills that have plagued our state for so long. However, we cannot help but share the skepticism voiced by some, like House Democratic Caucus Chairman Darrio Melton of Selma, who said many of the problems Bentley mentioned could have been addressed during the governor's first term, but weren't.
Without re-election looming ahead, Bentley may feel free to do what he believes is right instead of what might please his political party should those paths diverge.
Time will tell.