I don’t think Obama’s speech last night moved things forward at all. Perhaps that’s not what the State of the Union is supposed to do. I’ve never really been clear about that. One thing I did notice is that he didn’t employ the standard line of the speech, usually at the end of the first paragraph: “The state of our Union is [strong, vibrant, sold, secure, pick a word].” He didn’t use that line at all. Instead he said that he personally was confident about the country’s future. Well, okay.
I wanted to hear urgency; I wanted of course to hear something new, something bold. I didn’t hear that.
I didn’t want to hear legislative laundry lists. And forgive me, but I didn’t want to hear any more tender cloying stories of heroic Americans facing hardship with spirit, which often come down to “my life is shit but it’ll get better”. I did hear a lot of that.
A line I didn’t like: “when I ran, I promised I wouldn’t do just what was popular”. Presidential boilerplate. George Bush said it standing in the same place.
A line I did like when he was talking about people who need health care: “I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.“
There was a point when I felt a change in the mood, a point where my eyes were riveted on him and, I thought, so were the eyes of those ‘in the chamber’. This excerpt has its share of clichés of course, but somehow, at this point, people seemed to be listening. I certainly was. (He was looking straight at the government of the United States.)
“Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions -– our corporations, our media, and, yes, our government –- still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates to silly arguments, big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away. . . But I also know this: If people had made that decision [to turn away from the hard decisions] 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The only reason we are here is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and their grandchildren.”
I’ve heard that before; but it never resonated with me quite as it did last night.