On a bitterly chilly and snowy day in January 1982, Air Florida flight 90 took off from Washington D.C. heading to Tampa, Florida.
Instantly after takeoff the airplane started experiencing issues from the ice that had fashioned on its wings. It plummeted, skipping off Washington’s 14th Avenue bridge and crashing into the icy waters of the Potomac River.
The following rescue effort was broadcast on native tv. Frigid temperatures and dangerous climate hampered the primary responders. With time working out to save lots of the crash victims, a bystander named Lenny Skutnik immediately jumped in and saved flight attendant Priscilla Trijado, who had twice fallen again into the water after slipping away from rescue strains.
A speechwriter for Ronald Reagan named Aram Bakshian was watching the protection. He instantly thought Skutnik’s story would resonate with the American folks and determined to incorporate it in his draft of Reagan’s upcoming State of the Union handle.
A couple of weeks later, Skutnik was sitting within the gallery of the U.S. Home chamber watching as President Reagan informed his story.
Reagan recounted the rescue. He mentioned Skutnik embodied “American heroism at its best.”
Reagan then appeared up at Skutnik, who was seated within the gallery subsequent to First Woman Nancy Reagan. The chamber burst into applause.
This was the primary of what was to turn into a practice in State of the Union addresses. It has turn into such a predictable a part of the speech that the act of mentioning a visitor seated within the gallery has turn into generally known as “the Skutnik,” and the company themselves are known as “Lenny Skutniks.”
Why presidents do it
Presidents have traditionally chosen uncontroversial figures who embody a constructive message, or no less than who signify a political agenda framed in virtuousness for the higher good.
When George W. Bush talked about kindness and self-sacrifice in his 2007 handle, he praised skilled basketball participant Dikembe Mutombo – a brand new U.S.citizen – for constructing a hospital in his hometown within the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In his 2011 handle, President Barack Obama identified visitor Brandon Fisher within the context of discussing American laborious work, ingenuity and selflessness. Obama informed how Fisher’s Pennsylvania firm specialised in new drilling applied sciences that helped rescue the trapped Chilean miners the yr earlier than.
Folks like Skutnik, Mutombo and Fisher represented values that presidents believed had been necessary. They offered function fashions for others to observe.
Presidents additionally use the State of the Union as a possibility to set out bold political priorities. By mentioning heroes, presidents can put a face and a narrative to the insurance policies they need to spotlight.
For instance, in his 1999 handle, President Invoice Clinton, whereas speaking about his initiatives to fight racism and inequality, pointed to civil rights icon Rosa Parks who was seated within the gallery subsequent to First Woman Hillary Clinton.
In 2002, President George W. Bush gave his first State of the Union handle after the 9/11 terrorist assaults. He singled out Hermis Moutardier and Christina Jones – two of the flight attendants who thwarted “shoe bomber” Richard Reid on American Airways Flight 63 certain from Paris to Miami in 2001. He additionally pointed to Sharon Spann, widow of CIA officer Michael Spann, who was killed in Afghanistan.
As presidential students Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Corridor Jamieson write of their ebook, Presidents Creating the Presidency, State of the Union addresses are about celebrating shared values, aspirations and nationwide id.
That’s very true on the subject of the Skutnik.
Anthony F. Arrigo doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.