Why is it called “The State of the Union” instead of “The State of the Republic”? Maybe because we fought a war to preserve union without paying too close attention to what it means for republicanism?
This is a backhanded way of saying I didn’t listen to the President’s address last night. I never do, whether it’s a Republican or Democrat, because the rhetoric is so pretty and predictable and long. It is all theater with little substance, but it is bad theater, comparable to Breaking Bad or Mad Men.
I did read through President Obama’s address, though, and I can’t say that he led me to think that he is one of the smarter men in the nation (he may be but if so he felt compelled to sink to the level of his audience and speech writers). Here are a couple of the ephemeral bromides scattered through the text. First on American exceptionalism:
At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth. It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.
Does the President really believe this or is he an American patriot simply going through the motions, someone who needs to get right with the United States’ real redemptive purpose?
Here is how the President concluded:
I want future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we are a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen – man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino and Asian, immigrant and Native American, gay and straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability.
I want them to grow up in a country that shows the world what we still know to be true: that we are still more than a collection of red states and blue states; that we are the United States of America.
I want them to grow up in a country where a young mom like Rebekah can sit down and write a letter to her President with a story to sum up these past six years:
“It is amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to…we are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”
My fellow Americans, we too are a strong, tight-knit family. We, too, have made it through some hard times. Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America. We’ve laid a new foundation. A brighter future is ours to write. Let’s begin this new chapter – together – and let’s start the work right now.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love.
I find it hard to believe that the President’s baby boomer cohort believes any of this. They certainly don’t find it inspiring or ennobling, if they are honest. Where is the old ideal of “speaking truth to power,” or being suspicious of the establishment, or how could this verbiage summon up some kind of commitment to a common purpose like the one that Martin Luther King legitimately inspired? And if a public official is going to traffic in such triteness, does he or she need to go on for close to 70 minutes (I know this because the address was still on the radio as I engaged my bedtime toilet). (And why, oh why, does the Governor of Michigan need to warble on for over an hour about the State of the State?)
Again, this isn’t the President’s fault or a complaint about policy. This is a lament about where the new order for the ages has wound up. This is what passes for intelligent reflection about important matters before the nation that is supposed to be an example to the rest of the world. But as a baby boomer who knew other boomers who thought they could do a lot better than their parents, I am still wondering when we are going to find those better achievers or find the honesty to admit we were wrong.