National Commentary

‘An America Built to Last’

What a stark contrast. All those mud-slinging kids mangling each other with venomous attacks on bank accounts and personal lives on the one hand. The President of the United States on the other.

President Obama’s State of the Union address this week was eloquent, elevated and full of national optimism. It was nothing like we’ve seen coming out of the Republican primary process – those endless one day up, one day down debates and the record four state primaries and caucuses completed before the end of January.

“An America Built to Last” was the official title given to the State of the Union, a hearty theme hardly reducible to sophomoric squabbling and dirty name calling.
Most of the last month has been filled with the Republican primary process, and while the candidates have lashed out at each other, all have had only the worst to say about Obama. It has been a month of relentless Obama-bashing.

So when our president took to the podium Tuesday night to spell out the nation’s achievements, it had an eye-opening effect. Wait a minute! This is the guy they’ve been spewing all that venom at? That’s quite a list of accomplishments he’s spelling out, and he believes in a bright future for us.

The president signaled he is fully locked and loaded for a scathing offensive later this year against whomever his GOP opponent turns out to be.

He’s no longer feels obligated to stress how sincere he is about reaching out to compromise with his adversaries. No, he condemns their intransigence with the full weight of the American way, using the nation’s military successes as a model for exactly what his GOP adversaries refuse to do, to work together for the betterment of the country.

It was a brilliant stroke to begin with references to America’s recent military successes at making the United States safer and more respected around the world. For the first time in nine years, no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat. Most of al Qaeda’s top leaders are defeated. The Taliban’s momentum broken.

How has America’s military done these things? The president said right off the bat that it’s because our soldiers are “not consumed with personal ambition. They don’t obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together.”

“Imagine,” he intoned. “What we could accomplish if we followed their example.”

This “working together” theme defined the new American morality in Obama’s speech, applied to bi-partisan cooperation – something the GOP has resolutely refused to agree to – to insisting that everyone plays by the same rules to reverse growing income disparity, pay fair shares of taxes and turn away from sleights of hand to profit from that which weakens the nation’s middle class, whether by speculative shenanigans or by shipping jobs overseas.

While the field of his GOP rivals can’t think beyond postmodern myths about Ronald Reagan, Obama showed he’s “old school,” invoking the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and FDR’s New Deal. This is not a president who’s shying away from the benefits of what Republicans assail as “big government.”

In the best single paragraph of his speech, Obama said, “During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. After World War II, we connected our states with a system of highways. Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today.”

He then proposed to “take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.”

Obama’s greatest strength was invoking the values of the nation that worked together to defeat the Depression and win World War II and the admiration of the world. He went back, before the selfish greed that came with the Reagan Revolution, to a better America.

That’s the vision he wants us to share for a better America to come.