Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Next Great Chapter

I got the sense of a liberated Obama in his State of the Union address, but not because he doesn't have to worry about be re-elected, as the pundits say.  Let me do something novel and take him at his word.  He began the speech by referring to how the country has come out of the Great Recession with which he was greeted on his first Inauguration, and how the second of the two wars he inherited is being ended.  "So, together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger."

So the rubble is cleared, and it's time to build it.  And that's what I heard: the Obama we probably would have heard in 2009 if  the GOPers Wall Street hadn't conveniently tanked the economy during his presidential campaign.  The 21st century America that he wants to build.

This address was full of proposals and declarations of the directions we need to go, and why.  It was clearly and logically articulated in the language of common sense.  The sense we have in common, and of what we do in common.  "Obama's repeated plea to the nation tonight was to face reality: his tone was relentless reasonability," wrote xpostfactoid in the critique that best reflects my own response of any I read.

(Here's the transcript of the speech as delivered.)

Yet President Obama did not dwell on a single issue or argument but proposed an exciting scope of ideas and initiatives.  A lot will depend on follow-through, but I did get the sense that these were not thrown-together notions at a p.r. brainstorming session but legislative proposals that were worked out in terms of cost, and either executive actions or public-private initiatives that have been started. 

The more you look into issues like the climate crisis, the more you see that valuable stuff can be accomplished without Congress.  And what choice do we have?  It's clear that little of significance is going to be done by this Congress except through the back door (i.e. the Senate and a majority of Dems with some GOPers in the House, but only on a few issues), so you have to go to working with the states, with business and academia, etc. as well as through executive action and going to the citizenry for political heat.

Howard Fineman on msnbc said he was in the chamber for the speech and felt that President Obama's mantra on gun violence legislation was very powerful in the room, and that translated over the TV.  "Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight [the Chicago teenager gunned down days after performing in the Inaugural parade], along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. They deserve a vote. (Applause.) Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. (Applause.) The families of Newtown deserve a vote. (Applause.) "  

As someone said, President Obama was shaming the Republicans in this and other sections of the speech, but this mantra was applicable as well to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who doesn't want to bring the assault weapon ban to a vote.  It's going to be very hard for him to deny it now.

But he ended the speech with what will live from it in quotation--yet another distillation of President Obama's core belief, and a subtle transition to tomorrow (which is today)--when he goes out on the road and takes his case beyond the Beltway:

"We may do different jobs and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title -- we are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter of our American story." 

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