Wednesday, January 27, 2010


A solid B, I think. Not a great speech, but pretty good. Good content, but too much content to really make his strongest points about the political context within which that content is debated come through as clearly as they should have. State of the Union addresses have been laundry lists of legislative priorities and promises for as long as I can remember, and by now I presume that's just the nature of the beast. Too bad Obama and his people weren't willing to fight that beast a little bit more; a leaner, more directly--but also less detailed--partisan speech, focusing more conceptually on the civic environment that he claims to want to move our government in the direction of--one of more responsibility, and less crassly political calculation (more civic virtue, in other words)--would, I think, been taken more seriously by some of those who need to hear that message most. No doubt it would have cost him the opportunity to appeal to this or that interest group, but it would have been worth it, I suspect. But hey, I'm an intellectual, so what do I know?

Best lines from the speech, I think:

I am not nave. I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era. I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched. And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, have been taking place for over two hundred years. They are the very essence of our democracy.

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.

So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it's an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes, as supermajority, in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.

Good stuff. More please.


Anonymous said...

But can you put it on a bumper sticker?
Western Dave

mfranti said...

my absolute favorite part:

And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes, as supermajority, in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well.


have i told you about my long time blog crush on you?

it's true. going on 3 years now.

Timothy Burke said...

He writes thoughtful speeches. But I'm kind of past appreciating them until I see some implementation of the things he has to say in them. Perhaps because I have such a strong inclination to the same kind of pragmatism, I'm exceptionally wary about being manipulated by an appeal to it--because my sense is that this ought to be not a "frame" but the quintessential way to get things done. If it isn't, then the rhetoric itself has no appeal, and there's something wrong with the concept itself.

Russell Arben Fox said...


Perhaps "Here's your supermajority right here!"--would that work? Except I'm not even sure what that means.


The crush is mutual, I assure. I just never comment at FMH because I'm too humble.


Thanks for commenting--and for, as usual, succinctly making a sharp point. I can't disagree that one can see in Obama's rhetoric of pragmatism, as I suggested in the earlier post, not a determination to cut through cant, but a religious cant all its own: not a reflection of his practical approach to governing, but a "worldview" of governing, like every other. A depressing thought, that.