Thursday, January 13, 2011

A President for the Entire Country

Some have pondered where this President was on health care (Gail Collins of the NYT, for instance), as Obama gave a very moving speech last night.  I think this kind of question underestimates the differences between standing up for a policy and standing for a nation.  I do think that Obama could have articulated better his policies over the last two years, but it is a different circumstance where he could be not a partisan but a President. 

I was not in love with the entire speech because I do not like the invoking of a religion (or any religion), but I understand that kind of stuff usually has a role in events such as memorials.  I was also uncomfortable with allof the cheering and applause breaks given that this was a memorial and not a state of the union address.  I think the President and his wife both felt uncomfortable with the cheering.  But it was abundantly clear that Obama was doing more than playing a part--he spoke with moving conviction, building on the details of those who died, to make an appeal towards unity and a higher level of discourse. 

Obama was clever not to lay blame anywhere but yet call on folks to rise to the expectations of our children.  This was probably both heartfelt and strategic.  That is, he probably believes it, but it also positions various folks, especially on the right (I will not make the error of false balancing left and right), as letting us down if they continue as they have:
“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do,” he said, “it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”
This phrasing puts the onus on the stone-casters to lay down their rocks.  If they do not, then they are lousy Americans, and they are failing to meet the expectations of our children.  I found this part of the speech to be a combination of touching, sensitive, and, yes, strategic and political.

Will Obama's speech and the events over the weekend alter the spirals of hostility and intolerance that the US has been experiencing?  I am not so sure.  One thing I do note is that I have been thinking of "The President" the past 12 hours or so, rather than just Obama the guy with the job.   Much prouder to be an American today than 24 hours ago.  And to honor the President's speech, I promise to reduce the shrill of the Spew by 25%.

1 comment:

Addison said...

Agreed. He struck the right balance.

Also, perhaps you do need a 'shrill' meter accompanying each post... it could make a nice visual for the blog.