Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Back to Why He Ran

The White House referred to last night's State of the Union speech as "Turning the Page." And no, I didn't know that was going to happen when I posted this yesterday morning. But even as I wrote that, I didn't realize the import of that title. Here's how President Obama described it in the introduction to his remarks.
Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before. More of our people are insured than ever before. And we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe. We are humbled and grateful for your service.

America, for all that we have endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.
But it wasn't until he got to the end of the speech that I realized why the President has a spring in his step lately and more determination that ever to push his own agenda. No, its not simply because he doesn't have to face another election. And no, its not simply because he wants to set the agenda for the 2016 election. And no, its not because he's finally learned how to be combative with Republicans.

Listening to the President last night I got more of a sense of how burdened he's been by the near-collapse of our economy and the seemingly endless wars in which we were engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. For almost six years he has had to focus almost exclusively on fixing the messes he was handed by previous administrations. As he has said a lot lately, 2014 was finally a "break-through year" on all those fronts. And now he is free to get back to the issues that motivated him to run in the first place.

I can hear it now: "But, but, but...income inequality!!!!" My response would be to say that addressing that issue is EXACTLY why Barack Obama ran for president. It's not a new challenge that exists because of the Great Recession. It has been building for the last 30-40 years (or more). President Obama's assessment of our situation is that the fundamentals of our economy are now strong enough that we can begin to tackle the structural issues that create inequality.

It was when President Obama recalled his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention that I recognized the transformation that has happened in him over the last few months. He's finally able to let go of an incredibly difficult crisis that was not of his making and get on with the work he felt passionate enough about that he was able to take on the risk of running for president against all odds...and won...twice :-)

He's only got two years left to go. But I predict that over that time we'll see the president Barack Obama dreamed of being. So hang on for a VERY interesting fourth quarter!

1 comment:

  1. So one critic said to me that addressing income inequality NOW showed he was in league with the 1% since a tax cut etc. cannot pass. We as a nation have very short memories - there WAS a middle class tax cut. He had a supermajority to get through the Senate MAYBE for 6 months, but with Lieberman and Baucus, that wasn't even sure. My own experience with progressives in the 90s was a wall of indifference about major policy changes that now are the screech of "why didn't Obama completely change the world in his first year so I'm not voting they're all the same".

    Last night's speech was coming after success - a success that HAS radically changed us. ACA, Dodd-Frank, a wholly different world policy on foreign matters - it all has begun the transformation we demanded. And that we got. Within this success of structural alterations, President Obama can indeed lay out next steps. These are not sweeping changes - that has already started. They are the increments that make the changes last and bring specific relief to the people who live here. I was very energized by his speech and enjoyed his new-found freedom. If only the media had told the truth in November and American voters had done a scintilla of deep reading, we would have voted differently perhaps - at least would have voted at ALL - to provide a Congress that was not devoted to undoing all this president has done. Let us not be too stupid and ideological next time? Democracy takes our engagement, not our sulking.