When you're trying to break into the news cycle, the first rule of thumb is never to compete with someone who's bound to upstage you. So I was surprised that Bill Gates would choose the same night as the State of the Union to issue his annual public letter. It's the final State of the Union of President Obama's term! Any news of Gates' letter is sure to be drowned out by the cacophony of SOTU coverage. It's like scheduling the WNBA championship game (sorry ladies) on Super Bowl Sunday. Who would do such a thing?
Then again, Gates may be onto something. After reading Politico's piece "What's In a Speech?", I'm already, just a little bit, kind of over the SOTU. Presidential historian Richard Norton Smith explains how the speech has become merely a part of the theater of government. I for one am tired of the theatre of government. The SOTU usually sees me curled up on my couch waiting for the crumbs... the mentions of issues that I consider to be the greatest challenges of our time. I often feel disappointed, waiting for these shout outs, waiting to hear the thing that will move me from my seat and say, "That's it! Hallelujah! Let's get to work." The speech, which has to be too many things to too many people, fails, in spite of Obama's eloquence, to meet my expectations.
Thus, Gates has nailed it. His letter, which went live last night at 7 p.m., actually highlights some of greatest challenges we face as human beings. Challenges like eradicating polio, preventing infant deaths, defeating HIV/AIDS, growing enough food to feed all mouths and providing quality education to feed all minds. As usual, Gates will inspire with lessons from history and remind us that it's possible to achieve great things -- like eliminate smallpox, and soon polio -- if people from every country contribute their part, if we work together and put humanity's challenges before all else. That's my kind of theatre...
Kolleen Bouchane is the Director of www.action.org.