A friend called me this afternoon and asked me if I intended to watch the SOTU, and I reflexively said “of course”. The truth is, I wasn’t planning on it. There are a lot of reasons for this, but perhaps the most important one is that I wanted to just chill out with the kids tonight. We cooked a delicious dinner, then settled in with a movie.
That doesn’t mean I don’t care what was said, and what was proposed. As is my habit, I got up in the middle of the night and read the full text of the speech, and these are the lines that resonated with me:
“To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years.”
I couldn’t agree more. But I have to add something that would probably not be a President’s place to say… that the deficit of trust extends beyond that between Govt and Citizen. It exists between merchant and consumer as well, probably more so than ever before. It exists between parent and teacher. It exists between neighbors. Some of this is a result of real, verifiable actions, but much of it is a result of a culture of fear and distrust that is perpetuated by those seeking to profit from it. Until we admit and address this problem, no meaningful change can occur.
“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.”
My kids don’t know an America without deep division. They are growing up in a world where everything is measured and proclaimed Red or Blue. They were toddlers during the 2000 fiasco. As small children, they ate dinner with the news on in the background. They went with me to meetings and rallies, and they dealt with a houseful of strangers that stayed with us while we worked with MoveOn. I’m sure that for most of their young lives, they just assumed this was normal, that every family devoured political news 24/7, and that every family lived and died with every soundbite offered from some pundit on the television. I made a conscious decision to change that last year. The first thing to go was television. They haven’t missed it, not one bit. (I struggled during football season, but some good friends Tivo-ed a few games and allowed me to come watch at my leisure.) Anyway, a childhood spent listening and watching politics just didn’t seem fair to me, and I felt that it was taking too much of my time and attention away from them. Bottom line: Its been better for us at home.
“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”
“Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.”
Two things I’d like to emphasize: We lack leadership everywhere, and people are starving for it. I’m always surprised to read comments from people that assert our elected officials must represent their constituents by giving them what they want. Thats the last thing they should do, if you ask me. If that was the case, you could literally elect anyone to do this. We need leaders who are not afraid to cast an unpopular vote and then go explain to their constituents why they did so. That is leadership.
Poll numbers. I hate them. Most of the time, they are meaningless. I’m not saying that they can’t be better, and some guys, (Nate Silver comes to mind) have really gotten good at reading the tea leaves. But when elected officials rely on them to decide whats best, well, the old saying “look, there go my people, I must run ahead of them so I can lead them!” is certainly applicable.
There were some great parts of this speech, and after reading it I was reminded why I was excited about Obama in the first place. Even without the aid of seeing him deliver it, the speech was uplifting and, dare I say it….hopeful.