Monday, May 6, 2013

The President has something on his mind

President Obama's speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention was structured around a theme: citizenship.
We, the people — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe.
In an interview with Michael Scherer that was published a couple of weeks later, he talked about what he was thinking about if he was to win a second term.
There are a handful of big issues that we’re going to have to deal with...

But for me to get those accomplished, I do think I’m going to need to bring in the voices of the American people much more systematically, much more regularly.

Finding the right mechanisms to do that is something that we’re going to spend a lot of time thinking about.
And then yesterday, in his commencement speech to the graduates of Ohio State University, the President said this:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we can keep this idea of citizenship in its fullest sense alive at the national level — not just on Election Day, not just in times of tragedy, but all the days in between. And perhaps because I spend a lot of time in Washington, I’m obsessed with this issue because that sense of citizenship is so sorely needed there...

I think about how we might perpetuate this notion of citizenship in a way that another politician from my home state of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson, once described patriotism not as “short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” That’s what patriotism is. That’s what citizenship is...

So briefly, I’ll ask for two things from the Class of 2013: to participate, and to persevere.
Of course, Organizing for Action is one avenue he is offering for citizens to engage. But its obvious that President Obama's mind is still at work on this one. I have a hunch we'll be hearing MUCH more about this during his second term.


  1. Let us all hope fervently that this is true because citizenship has taken a hit in this country and we all need to get creative about how to reverse the trend. Nice post, Smartypants.

  2. It's interesting to me, how the President chooses words. And, given our discourse, the word "citizen" is important. This is one of those examples--maybe I'm projecting onto the President--where one compromises on language in an attempt to redefine it. We know that the word "citizen," in some circles is synonymous with "white American," in opposition to everyone else. Given the whole discussion of immigration policy, etc., citizen is a loaded term.

    Me, I know that this whole part of his project is the real point of his engagement with the political system. The only effective check on corporate power, capital, sociopolitical elites, etc., is popular power. I would even prefer the term communal power, because I can't see how power can be abstracted, through representatives, away from localities to some political and economic center. In power, there can be no representation, only action.

    But if the President talked about the right of every human being to anything, he'd immediately have to engage in a discussion of immigration policy, which, while part of the process, would act as a diversion to the right's benefit. So, he talks about citizenship. This is workable.

    There's a whole discussion of citizenship--I know I'm not saying anything profound--coming from the French Revolution that is worth examining. It was a different social world, but not so different that it can't supply food for thought.

  3. On the next day after his victory, the President gave a tearful, heartfelt and passionate speech to his supporters. He stressed how much they meant to him in getting his passion for "citizenship" back on the table and what they can bring. Which is why I thought his "We the people" theme for his 2nd Swearing In as President was brilliant. I see that I was not incorrect that he would take it even farther. His brilliance is startling in its simplicity, awesome in its power!
    I am so IN!!

    1. Those very people will go forth and spread good citizenship far and wide in this country. Our Community Organizer is changing more than policy in this country. We are so lucky.