January 13, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v44)

I watched with interest President Obama's State of the Union (SOTU) address last night; I was curious about what he was going to say in his lame duck address, especially since there had been news in the days leading up to last night's speech that he was going to be 'unconventional' or 'nontraditional' this time around. And to an extent, that was true.

Gone were the call outs to Americans sitting in the guest boxes, veterans or teachers or plumbers or the like, folks who lived a story that touched on an issue close to the President's heart (or that of his speechwriters). The people were still there, of course. Even less-than-special guests, like Kim Davis, the government employee who refuses to do her job down in Kentucky. Seems she was 'invited' by a representative from Ohio who, until he was tracked down by someone today, was not even aware he had invited her. I wonder, this Wednesday, if he would have asked her to come along on purpose, instead of donating a ticket to a foundation that ended up in her hands?

Gone, too, from this SOTU, was any pretense of trying to get any major work done this year; Obama opened the speech noting that
Tonight marks the eighth year I've come here to report on the State of the Union. And for this final one, I'm going to try and make it shorter. I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  I know -- I've been there.
I also understand that, because it's an election season, expectations for what we'll achieve this year are low...I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead. 
Generally, he kept to his legislative-light approach, and focused more on our country and our American ideals.  He made many references tor our past and how we need to somehow regain what we used to be, if we are to be successful in the future.
America has been through big changes before - wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights. Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future, who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the "dogmas of the quiet past." Instead we thought anew, and acted anew. We made change work for us... and because we did - because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril - we emerged stronger and better than before.
 A bit later, as a preface to four questions he wanted to get us thinking about, he posed this question:
Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?
Here's the gist of his four questions:
  1. How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security?
  2. How do we make technology work for us and not against us?
  3. How do we keep America safe, without becoming the world's policeman?
  4. How can we make our politics reflect what's best in us, and not what's worst?
The last question is by far the one I'm most interested in. The first three can be filtered down into ideological issues - small government vs. big government, trickle down vs. bubble up, and so on, but the last one? That one can cross, even obliterate, party lines.

Regular readers know I often find myself wondering how the heck we got into such a pickle with our political process, with more money than all of the Supreme Beings from all the world's religions have between them corrupting the process, with corporations being equal to living, breathing people with individual rights, with efforts to restrict voting, and sham political districts, and politicians openly supporting those who bald-face disregard our laws, such as the aforementioned Kim Davis, and the Bundys, and people who refuse service to people who are not like them... I could go on and on.

President Obama hit on those topics last night. And then, he challenged us, people from both major parties and all of the other official parties, the almost parties, the special caucuses and even the loosely affiliated. He challenged us one and all.
The future we want - opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids - all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.
It will only happen if we fix our politics.
I wondered, as he wove his way through this part of his speech, looking out an an audience unburdened by term limits, many of them beneficiaries of the very practices he was describing, if he really thought the people in the room would go home thinking even a tiny bit differently about how they personally are perceived, or how what they do is perceived?
Changes in our political process - in not just who gets elected but how they get elected - that will only happen when the American people demand it. It will depend on you. That's what's meant by a government of, by, and for the people.
What I'm asking for is hard. It's easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn't possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe our voices and actions don't matter. But if we give up now, we forsake a better future.  
I wondered, would people believe him when he said it basically didn't matter whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, the only thing that matters is that you participate?
And so, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day. 
Because, ultimately, it doesn't matter what your beliefs are. What matters is that your participate.

Will we answer the call, I wonder?