I covered a number of State of the Union addresses during my years as a reporter in Washington D.C. I'm not sure how significant these speeches are, in terms of America's history and its direction. Since the invention of television, they've become, mostly, a chance to see how well a president can present his ideas--if he has any--and if he does, to see what kind of ideas they are.
The office of president is, as they say, a bully pulpit. And from this bully pulpit this year, there was something missing. What wasn't there, was a vision of America as a nation of extraordinary exceptionalism. A nation which has always faced challenges and from which great inventions come on the morrow after the trials of today.
For, in the end, the reason people keep flooding our shores, is not because, here, one finds a chicken in every pot, a car in every driveway, a television in every bedroom, and a computer on every desk. It is because here people are free to dream.
Barack Obama is the embodiment of all that makes America so special: yet he has spent so much time analyzing the trees, he seems to have missed the forest entirely.
He tells us that in South Korea, homes have better Internet access than we do. That Europe and Russia have better roads and railways. As if one could measure America's value by material things! You can't measure a person that way: why do so with a nation?
We're the only nation ever invented based on the ideal that each of us should have the chance to rise or fall as we choose. That we should each have the freedom to think and worship and dream without interference from anyone.
These things, perhaps not surprisingly, have made us rich beyond our wildest dreams. And if we face economic issues now, it may be because we've used our innovation and creativity to prosper and our leadership got used to spending our tax money like drunken sailors on leave.
They ought to cut that out. We can handle the belt tightening. Can they?
So when I listened to the State of the Union address last night it made me think back to Jimmy Carter: a nice man and a good man, but another man who saw America as the sum of its parts--with a "malaise" upon the land.
He was followed in office by a big man of great optimism. President Ronald Reagan occupied the same space at almost the same time and saw something entirely different. Reagan saw instead a shining city on a hill in which all things were possible. Then he worked to make it all come true.
Internet access, roadways and bridges, rail lines and deficits are only small things. Ideas are big, and it is ideas that have made America.
"America is too great for small dreams."