Past as Prologue: Will We Learn From History?

While watching Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s State of the State address last week, I was struck by the similarities I noticed between her remarks and the State of the State address delivered by Gov. James Blanchard in 1986. What follows are 13 quotes taken from Blanchard’s speech[1] and their parallels, found in Gov. Granholm’s speech 20 years later.


Blanchard: "In fact, in 1985 a record 23,600 new businesses started up in Michigan.

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Granholm: "In the 12 months since I spoke here last, more than 1,600 new small businesses opened their doors in Michigan."


Blanchard: "After observing what’s taking place here, author and futurist John Naisbitt wrote that Ann Arbor is among the 10 best places in the nation to open a new business."

Granholm: "In fact, in 2005 we were named one of the friendliest states in America for Small Business."


Blanchard: "Who could have guessed that we could erase, in just three short years, a staggering $1.7 billion deficit?"

Granholm: "I’m proud that we’ve resolved $4 billion in budget deficits without a general tax increase."


Blanchard: "Solvency has helped us launch a nationally envied economic program that has brought us jobs from Japan."

Granholm: "Our Japan trip brought commitments for hundreds of more new jobs from Denso, Tokai, Rika, Hitachi Automotive, and others.


Blanchard: "From the very first, the number one goal of this administration has been to create jobs for Michigan residents."

Granholm: "In addition to bringing jobs home, I’ll continue my fight to keep the jobs we have right here in Michigan."


Blanchard: "Second, we must diversify our economy …"

Granholm: "And second, the 21st Century Jobs Fund, the product of almost unanimous bipartisan agreement — the largest investment in diversifying our economy this state has ever seen."


Blanchard: "Second, we must diversify our economy … while capitalizing on the emerging field of biotechnology."

Granholm: "At Michigan State University, President Lou Anna Simon is positioning our state (and her Spartans) to lead the world in the new ‘bio-economy’ — developing energy and other products from our agricultural sector."


Blanchard: "First, we must remain diligent in our efforts to strengthen our industrial base and make sure we lead the world in advanced manufacturing."

Granholm: "Believe me, Michigan will continue to do everything in its power to support our manufacturing center."


Blanchard: "Fundamental to maintaining Michigan’s economy is increased innovation."

Granholm: "This is a big deal — and a huge opportunity for Michigan. Innovators across the country are developing new ways to power our refrigerators, heat our homes, and fuel our cars."


Blanchard: "The new Michigan Materials Processing Institute will be a bold effort to achieve national leadership in the creation of new manufacturing materials"

Granholm: The Great Lakes State will be the alternative energy epicenter of America."


Blanchard: "State government has joined with labor and business to help provide residents with the skills they will need to meet the challenges of the future."

Granholm: "Thanks to our Michigan Opportunity Partnership, we’re more successful than ever training and placing employed people in good paying jobs that exist today in Michigan."


Blanchard: "I share the deep concern of parents of young children, who fear that they cannot honestly promise their children the hope of a higher education at a Michigan public university."

Granholm: "First, we must make sure that every parent who’s watching tonight can afford to send their children to college."


Blanchard: "Every child has a right to expect that they will be safe from harm at school. And their parents have that right also. Schools must have an environment that fosters learning. Local safety programs funded by state grants will be implemented this year."

Granholm: "We’ll also work to make sure that your children are safe in their schools."


There is probably a good reason why Gov. Granholm’s speech contained so many similarities to Gov. Blanchard's speech: Cats don’t bark, as the saying goes. The point here is that politicians are similar animals regardless of party affiliation, and governors feel an obligation to a) brag about alleged accomplishments, and b) create an illusion that they’re doing something to solve problems — real or perceived.

But braggadocio comes with a price, one that is all too often paid for by the very people politicians claim to care about.

It would be refreshing if the next gubernatorial address were preceded by a thoughtful reading and analysis of past proposals and claims. Were they accurate? Did the adopted programs work as advertised? Are we repeating the mistakes of yesteryear? All of these are questions officials might want to ask themselves before they conjure up the ghosts of policies past.


Michael D. LaFaive is fiscal policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.

[1] The 1986 State of the State address was obtained from the Blanchard collection at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan.