It’s the season for State of the State addresses. They get less attention than the President’s State of the Union address, but they’re arguably more important to the legislators and citizens of the states in question. I got my start in the public speaking world writing speeches for the Governor of Virginia, and my first big test was the State of the Commonwealth address there.
Each year, it was a down-to-the-wire, nail-biter speech. Because it was always a policy and initiative list, there were many government officials involved, each with a policy axe to grind, weighing in, and the speechwriter was caught in the middle trying to make the words cover everything and still transmit a good speech. We usually started about 3 weeks before the date, and worked pretty much around the clock until the moment itself. In fact, one year I remember editing directly on the teleprompter a few minutes before the Governor was due to start.
It was all about control – control of message, control of initiative, control of the political agenda.
Governor John Kasich has a better way, sparing the sanity and the work hours of his staff. He apparently ad libs most of the speech. The result? The staff gets a break, but not the audience. Kasich rambles on for nearly an hour and a half, far longer than the President, and he discusses every imaginable topic, and a few you never would imagine. He mentions his “hot” wife, God as the lobbyist for handicapped people, and low weight babies, he imitates someone with Parkinson’s disease, he ‘shouts out’ to half the audience, he admonishes winners of his new Governor’s Courage Awards not to sell their medals on eBay, he argues that ex-cons should be able to drive trucks and cut hair, while mentioning that hugs from a woman he names “made him believe in God,” he condemns the slave trade, he describes himself as “a little boy in a Congressman’s body” – and he cries.
This is an hilarious, heartfelt, mortifying, embarrassing speech, at least for the first hour or so. It’s the puppet master’s nightmare, the speechwriter’s joke, and the audience’s torment. In the end, it is the best argument for a teleprompter and a script I’ve ever witnessed. Kasich just goes on and on, enthusiastic to the end, fired up on adrenaline and self-absorption. Meanwhile, the audience grows old, becomes grandparents, and finds religion, praying for release.
In the end, it's audience abuse, pure and simple.
Stick to the written speech, Governor Kasich! Your state needs to get to work!
Here’s a link to the speech. If you have lots of time on your hands, you’re a bored bureaucrat in some other state, or perhaps you’re retired and don’t like golf, then this is the video for you.