Archive | January, 2011

In SOTU, A Missed Opportunity

26 Jan

The State of the Union Address was anti-climactic for a few reasons. The speech was leaked yesterday morning, prompting Obama to pan in a little aside to Hillary Clinton on his way up to the podium about the redundancy¬†of giving a speech everyone had already read. The initially adorable idea of sitting Republicans next to Democrats mixed up the dynamic, and offered a hopeful opportunity to show a gesture of unity. It ended up being slightly awkward, as Democrats and Republicans rarely sat up to applaud together, and when one did and the other didn’t, the sitting party was left to wiggle around their seat, waiting for the noise to die down.

Obama’s leaked speech talked about a “Sputnik moment,” stoking the fires of nostalgia. Sputnik was a prop used by President Kennedy in the early 60’s to challenge Americans to greater heights, to tell Americans we can be/do/create better. Last week, Obama commemorated Kennedy’s inauguration, when the handsome Bostonian reframed patriotism for the young generation: help your country for the sake of everyone’s well-being, not just your own. Sacrifice. Honor. Idealism.

Once Obama reached that Sputnik line, the expectations (at least mine) were high. This will be when the president finally asks Americans, especially young Americans, to give back and help pull us out of this stall, collectively. To my dismay, he did not. He touched the subject, and some of the main concepts, but it was too superficial to have any effect. He called on to America’s youth to think about being a teacher, because “your country needs you.” Then he moved on to talking about jobs some more.

If Obama plans to bring us out of this recession as a vigorous and “re-invented” country (to use his parlance), he needs to finally call on us to help. He can’t just talk about patriotism when discussing the war or national security. Our economy and our society need us.

President Obama talked about making government better, and being ready for the challenges of the future. He wanted Washington to pull together and chip in. But there’s more will outside of DC than within. There’s a lot of social capital in America, ready to be put to use. The idealistic and passionate young, and young of heart, are looking for an opportunity to build a better community. The president needs to acknowledge this, and not miss another opportunity.

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