Tuesday, February 12, 2013
State of the Union: A Sacred Effort
I knew there was something about this President.
Tonight, I listened for 60 minutes to the man I voted for, and I felt fortunate, nay, privileged, to have had the chance to mark my own ballot next to his name.
Not since that thrilling speech at Lincoln Park, the night of his first Presidential victory in 2008, has President Barack Obama been as moving or as spine tingling.
For me, at least, the 60 minutes were as one.
It wasn't the litany of programs, although these were important.
It wasn't the selection of topics, or the inclusion of key phrases to address the priorities of particular interest groups, who were represented by people shown on camera around the room. All those little phrases are important to various stake holders, people who run associations, unions, companies, for whom the night is complete if they can raise a fist because their little group got a line in the speech. All that is now de rigeur for the modern State of the Union address.
No, the excellence of the speech lay in the simple logic of its arguments, the clear enunciation of a sense of fairness in simple phrases.
And, of course, there was that building emotional crescendo, as he went around the room telling stories of a policeman who was shot 12 times trying to save Muslims worshiping in a Sikh temple, a cop named Murphy or something Irish, an Irish American trying to save Muslims. Or the 102 year old woman, who had waited on line 6 hours to caste her vote in Florida, despite the best efforts of shameless Republican politicos who conspired in Florida, as they did in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, to deny the vote to those who were determined to vote against them.
The peak, emotionally, came when Mr. Obama said victims of gun violence, and their families, since Newtown and before "Deserve a Vote." And of course, as the chant went round the room it was like a repeated rapping on the door of the National Rifle Association's undoing. It was brilliant, on pitch, emotionally and intellectually correct. The President followed it with a shake of the head, a Reagan like shrug of the shoulders, as he said we will not prevent the next Newtown with laws or programs, but we owe it to our citizens to try.
It reminded me of Reagan's remarks after the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all on board, including a school teacher from New Hampshire. Reagan spoke the lines written for him by Peggy Noonan about the space ship breaking the surly bonds of earth, or some such and then he said, very matter of fact, "But there will be other shuttles launched. This will not be the last. They would not have wanted our efforts at exploration to die with them." And so Obama, in his humble acknowledgment we cannot control the lunacy, but that should not stop us from trying, echoed that wisdom of humility but determination.
And you looked around that room, with those aged, no aged is too neutral a word, at those failing, decrepit Supreme Court justices, at those old white men, like John Dingle and Mitch McConnell, and at the young Republican lions, dumb as sticks, like Eric Cantor and the T party bimbo, Kelly Ayotte, and you had to think, the guy at that podium is so much more vigorous and brighter than any of them. How can he accomplish anything, trying to teach ballet to these hippos?
Then he got to the idea of The Citizen, and that is where he really had me. That simple, neglected idea, of the humble citizen as the inevitable, central, indispensable unit of our democracy.
I could not turn off the television, watching the President make his way through the crowd after the speech, although I had to turn off the sound because Judy Woodruff did not have the good sense to tell the yammering David Brooks to simply shut his mouth, as he opined the speech was "prosaic." David Brooks, evidently, would not recognize a historic speech if he were hit over the head with it. He would undoubtedly judge the Gettysburg Address as underdeveloped and lacking emotion, Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address as long winded and too partisan.
The sad fact is, David Brooks may be a loving father and a kindly man, but he is one of the most clueless white men who ever pooped between two shoes. And Mark Russell, the liberal token, is wearyingly droll, trying to hard to coin a quotable phrase with every sentence, where a simple, "Memorable," would have done.
President Lincoln asked Frederick Douglass what Douglass had thought of his Second Inaugural Address, the evening of the inauguration. Douglass, who had had his differences with the ever-cautious and lawyerly Lincoln replied, "Mr. President, that was a sacred effort."
From out here in New Hampshire, that's the way I heard the President's speech tonight.
Posted by the phantom speaks at 10:44 PM