15 January 2008

"The days of fretting about how we are doing against border states are long over and a waste of time."

I readily admit my inherent nerdiness. I like to write, read, and listen to political speeches - particularly inaugural addresses and speeches during crises. I wrote speech drafts for the Senator, and I've written a few for clients in my current job. No one will ever confuse me with Peggy Noonan or Ted Sorenson, but I'd like to think I know quality when I see it.

In terms of oratory - I'm not commenting on politics, just the rhetoric and the delivery - President Bush's best speech was the one he gave to a joint session of Congress just after 9/11. President Clinton had two that really stuck in my mind - one a sermon in an African-American church in Memphis on Martin Luther King Jr. Day; another to ethnic Albanians right after the US and allied forces had secured Kosovo.

The speeches I hear in Kentucky from politicians are a cut below these, obviously, but sometimes I hear a line in them that gives me pause and prompts me to nod in agreement. Governor Beshear's State of the Commonwealth Address was last night, and there's one line in it that will probably be overlooked by most here but really resonated with me:

The days of fretting about how we are doing against border states are long over and a waste of time.
I really hope the Governor means it. In my time here I've been struck by the Commonwealth's obsession with rankings, particularly where they match up against West Virginia (usually ahead) and Tennessee (usually behind). I don't want to get too political here, but Kentucky's true competitors are now across oceans, not just across the state line. I've written about this more than a few times for Business Lexington (and I'll link as soon as I can find bizlex's archive again).
Kentucky may be the only state in the country who has imposed a statutory mandate on its higher ed flagship to be a "top 20" institution by 2020, but the legislature never really specified what "top 20" means. The media here constantly reports on where the Commonwealth ranks in every indicator imaginable - typically using border states as benchmarks. What it should be doing is looking at where it IS in education, health care, and economy, not where it ranks, and trying simply to improve it. If Tennessee slides, Kentucky hasn't improved. I also notice that Kentucky media reports when someone from the state gets noticed nationally - and the headline really reads "Kentuckian gets national attention." I don't recall seeing that in anyplace else I've lived.

I hope the Governor will help bring this shift in focus to Frankfort. I think it will take tremendous effort - old habits die hard - but I think it will help solve a lot of problems. I hope our state government worries less about what others think of us and more about how we improve our lot in life.


mothergoosemouse said...

I like that. And having grown up in southwestern Ohio, I know about the Kentucky stereotypes.

Alison said...

Well said.