Friday, September 9, 2011

Quintessential Obama: Unity and Pragmatism (updated)

Some might try to make the case that President Obama's speech last night was a break from his past. But those of us who have actually been watching and listening to him saw themes and approaches we've been hearing for a long time.

There was a section of his speech that has been incorporated into almost every major address he's ever given.

In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own -- that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.

Yes, we are rugged individualists. Yes, we are strong and self-reliant. And it has been the drive and initiative of our workers and entrepreneurs that has made this economy the engine and the envy of the world.

But there’s always been another thread running throughout our history -- a belief that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation...

No single individual built America on their own. We built it together. We have been, and always will be, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; a nation with responsibilities to ourselves and with responsibilities to one another. And members of Congress, it is time for us to meet our responsibilities.

This has always been how President Obama talks about the inherent tension between the traditional conservative value of individualism and the collective vision of liberalism. It's how he frames the argument for good government...the basic foundation of our liberal vision. As another example, here's how he talked about that in his speech on deficit reduction.

This larger debate that we’re having -- this larger debate about the size and the role of government -- it has been with us since our founding days. And during moments of great challenge and change, like the one that we’re living through now, the debate gets sharper and it gets more vigorous. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. As a country that prizes both our individual freedom and our obligations to one another, this is one of the most important debates that we can have.

But no matter what we argue, no matter where we stand, we’ve always held certain beliefs as Americans. We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can’t just think about ourselves. We have to think about the country that made these liberties possible. We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community. And we have to think about what’s required to preserve the American Dream for future generations.

This sense of responsibility -- to each other and to our country -- this isn’t a partisan feeling. It isn’t a Democratic or a Republican idea. It’s patriotism.

But when it comes to policy proposals, President Obama has always realized that there aren't any quick fixes or magic bullets. He's committed to the long term and open to any pragmatic ideas that will work.

I don’t pretend that this plan will solve all our problems. It should not be, nor will it be, the last plan of action we propose. What’s guided us from the start of this crisis hasn’t been the search for a silver bullet. It’s been a commitment to stay at it -- to be persistent -- to keep trying every new idea that works, and listen to every good proposal, no matter which party comes up with it.

That kind of thinking is what I would call "reality-based." But it goes against the grain of our current culture of immediacy and our addiction to ideology over results. We have a long-term battle ahead of us to break those patterns.

So what I saw last night was a quintessential Obama approach. And then, the community organizer in him came into the mix when he invited us to participate.

I ask every American who agrees to lift your voice: Tell the people who are gathered here tonight that you want action now. Tell Washington that doing nothing is not an option. Remind us that if we act as one nation and one people, we have it within our power to meet this challenge.

Looks like that's the one part of the speech that Eric Cantor didn't like.

This is my objection to the message that was delivered tonight. The message was: either accept my package as it is, or I will take it to the American people. I would say that that’s the wrong approach.

And that, my friends, is sure confirmation that its exactly the right approach.

Last night the President did his job. Now its our turn.

UPDATE: I suppose that full-range portaging must do something to affect either hearing or memory because firebagger David Dayen thought he heard something new last night in that quote up above about the contrast between the liberal and conservative values.

That’s a lasting argument, one that has needed to be said for the last three years.

Where the hell has he been? As I said up above and demonstrated with one example, its been part of almost every major speech by President Obama. It just shows that these folks do more whining than they do listening.

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