by Seth Eisenberg
Is the theme of family fading from the State of the Union?
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy mentioned family or families just three times in his last State of the Union address. Six years later, Lyndon Johnson also referenced families three times in his sixth and final State of the Union.
As he approached the end of his presidency, Richard Nixon mentioned family twice in his 1974 State of the Union, including this closing comment to Congress and the American people:
“Now, needless to say, it would be an understatement if I were not to admit that the year 1973 was not a very easy year for me personally or for my family.”
Gerald Ford didn’t mention family or families even once in his 1977 State of the Union speech. Four years later, Jimmy Carter included 13 references to family in the last of four State of the Unions during his presidency.
The theme of family was central to Ronald Reagan’s final State of the Union in 1988, including 20 references, subsequently surpassed only by Bill Clinton on January 23, 1996 when he spoke about family 26 times is his State of the Union. Clinton regularly spoke about family in his annual State of the Union appearances, mentioning family 11 times in 1993, 14 times in 1994, 21 times in 1995, 14 times in 1997, 20 times and 1998, 12 times in 1999, and 21 times in 2000.
George W. Bush barely mentioned family in his eight State of the Union addresses. He talked about family five times in his first address to Congress on February 27, 2001 when he outlined the goals of his Administration, once in his 2002 State of the Union, and six times in 2008, his last State of the Union.
Like Reagan and Clinton, Barack Obama appeared on his way to returning family as a central theme of his State of the Union speeches. In his address to a Joint Session of Congress on February 24, 2009, Obama mentioned family 12 times. He went further in 2010, almost besting Clinton’s 2000 record, when he talked about family 20 times in his State of the Union.
Last night, in his first State of the Union since Republicans won control of Congress in the mid-term elections, President Obama mentioned family just seven times, a sharp decline from his 2009 and 2010 speeches.
“We are part of the American family.”
“It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.”
“American Muslims are a part of our American family.”
“We’re a nation that says, ‘I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.’ ‘I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.’”
“Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families.”
“Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado — located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their families to go to college.”
“Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.”
Gerhard Peters’ The American Presidency Project at the University of California Santa Barbara has cataloged and coded State of the Union speeches since George Washington’s first annual message to Congress on January 8, 1790. President Washington didn’t mention family once in that speech.
Here’s a look at how presidents have referred to family in State of the Union addresses since 1945. For more, visit The American Presidency Project.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 4, 1945:
“The provision of a decent home for every family is a national necessity, if this country is to be worthy of its greatness—and that task will itself create great employment opportunities.”
Harry S. Truman, January 7, 1948:
“All of us must advance together. One-fifth of our families now have average annual incomes of less than $850.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 7, 1954:
“I am flatly opposed to the socialization of medicine. The great need for hospital and medical services can best be met by the initiative of private plans. But it is unfortunately a fact that medical costs are rising and already impose severe hardships on many families.”
John F. Kennedy, January 30, 1961:
“We will do what must be done. For our national household is cluttered with unfinished and neglected tasks. Our cities are being engulfed in squalor. Twelve long years after Congress declared our goal to be “a decent home and a suitable environment for every American family,” we still have 25 million Americans living in substandard homes.”
Lyndon B. Johnson, January 14, 1969:
“I think we should protect our children and their families from the costs of catastrophic illness.”
Richard M. Nixon, January 20, 1972:
“We believe in the family as the keystone of the community, and in the community as the keystone of the Nation.”
Gerald R. Ford, January 19, 1976:
“Long before our forefathers came to these shores, men and women had been struggling on this planet to forge a better life for themselves and their families.”
Jimmy Carter, January 23, 1979:
“No American family should be forced to choose among food, warmth, health care, or decent housing because the cost of any of these basic necessities has climbed out of reach.”
Ronald Reagan, February 6, 1985:
“New freedom in our lives has planted the rich seeds for future success: For an America of wisdom that honors the family, knowing that as the family goes, so goes our civilization.”
George Bush, January 31, 1990:
“The anchor in our world today is freedom, holding us steady in times of change, a symbol of hope to all the world. And freedom is at the very heart of the idea that is America. Giving life to that idea depends on every one of us. Our anchor has always been faith and family.”
William J. Clinton, January 27, 2000:
“To 21st century America, let us pledge these things: Every child will begin school ready to learn and graduate ready to succeed. Every family will be able to succeed at home and at work, and no child will be raised in poverty.”
George W. Bush, January 29, 2002:
“The American people have responded magnificently, with courage and compassion, strength and resolve. As I have met the heroes, hugged the families, and looked into the tired faces of rescuers, I have stood in awe of the American people.”
Barack Obama, January 27, 2010:
“Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The Federal Government should do the same.”
Seth Eisenberg is President of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Weston, Florida, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.
American Presidency Project
White House State of the Union Video