I'm going to give you my totally-biased, unvarnished impression of the State of the Union address in one sentence: I will never see another President as gifted as this one in my lifetime, and he will be missed.
And hey, when Kim Davis' only comment about the speech was that "it was good," then you know he must have done something right. But give it time, and the spinners and haters will have you believing he cast a spell on everyone that only they can break. Before they do that, here are my favorite moments. The entire speech is at the top of the page, and my quotes are from the transcript as released ahead of the speech.
The central theme: "But such progress is not inevitable. It is the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?"
Perfect framing, contrasting the fearmongering of the Republican field with a more confident, hopeful outlook of what the future can be.
The real reason we're anxious : "Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction. What is true – and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious – is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit and haven’t let up. "
I thought he did an excellent job of addressing the anxiety that many still do feel, even if many probably won't have ears to hear.
Calling out deniers: "Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon. "
I wanted to give that first line a standing ovation, but he didn't stop with that.
Tossing the climate change gauntlet: "Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it."
"But even if the planet wasn’t at stake; even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record – until 2015 turned out even hotter – why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?"
Yes, let's let them argue with why we want to be followers in green energy innovation. For good measure, he reminded everyone that $2 a gallon gas isn't so bad either.
Popping the hot air balloon: "I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air. Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker."
And just to prove his point, Iran notified the White House they'd release the ten U.S. sailors who encroached on their territorial waters in the morning.
No war when strength will do - "We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq – and we should have learned it by now."
Ouch. That needs no explanation. It was just a spanking.
The entire last part of his speech was dedicated to our divided, dysfunctional politics. There isn't one part I can pull out as being better than another. Every word of it was true, and that truth cuts through the noise and got right to the point. I'm going to put the entire chunk of the transcript here, because it was truly done with perfect pitch.
But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention. Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.
Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency – that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.
But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task – or any President’s – alone. There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected. I know; you’ve told me. And if we want a better politics, it’s not enough to just change a Congressman or a Senator or even a President; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.
We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around. We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections – and if our existing approach to campaign finance can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution. We’ve got to make voting easier, not harder, and modernize it for the way we live now. And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do.
But I can’t do these things on my own. Changes in our political process – in not just who gets elected but how they get elected – that will only happen when the American people demand it. It will depend on you. That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.
What I’m asking for is hard. It’s easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn’t possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future. Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure. As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.
We can’t afford to go down that path. It won’t deliver the economy we want, or the security we want, but most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.
So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day.
It won’t be easy. Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen – inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far. Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word – voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.
What were your favorite moments?