Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Shining City? Or The Sum of Our Parts?

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."
Ronald Reagan

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5 comments:

Don Meuler said...

I don't know; it seems to me that this is why one party doesn't stay in power all the time. It's all well and good to be blindly optimistic and forge ahead, but someone has to follow behind, cleaning up the ancillary messes swept to the side.
But I like the ideal.

peretz said...

I don't know a better way to say it, and some people will be offended, but this whole Obama "yes we can" frenzy was a bad idea (an idea that I never fell for once). I remember when Barak Ehud defeated Benyamin Netanyahu for the office of Prime Minister of Israel in the early 1990's You may remember that President Bil Clinton at the time, sent his stategist James Carville to Israel to campaign for Barak because they felt that he could give in to the whole "East Jerusalem for peace thing". There were posters all over Israel in favor of Ehud Barak that read "It's about change, stupid!" It worked, at least partway, Barak won. The "Change" tagline is very familiar to the Obama/Clinton administration.

Robin Chapman said...

We have all the ingredients we need--we could just use some leadership that could grasp such a simple concept.

Laura said...

Robin, you are truly a gifted writer.
Just yesterday we marked the 25th anniversary of the Challenger space shuttle tragedy, and I used to opportunity to watch again the speech Ronald Reagan gave that night. While there was never any doubt he was a strong, decisive leader, that night he showed a more tender side.
I feel bad for kids today who weren't born when RR was President, and don't know what it was like to have a leader who really, really loved AMERICA.

Robin Chapman said...

For those of you who have not heard President Reagan's great Challenger speech, you should Google it and listen to it on YouTube. He had an amazing connection with the American people and this speech is a perfect example of that, including his use, at the end of the speech, of the last words of the great poem "High Flight." He lifted the office of president above the budget battles and mundane politics to the level of real leadership, as Churchill did.