I liked it. It wasn’t a game-changing speech: it wasn’t touching like the Tucson speech, or one for the ages like the speech he gave on race in 2008. But he did something that I’ve been waiting for someone to do for awhile. He reclaimed the idea of “American Exceptionalism” from the exclusive domain of the Republicans (or at least he tried to; we’ll see if he succeeded).
I’ve been looking for this for awhile because despite all of the talk about “American Exceptionalism” and the claims that Obama didn’t believe in said exceptionalism, there has never really been a discussion of what exactly it is that makes America exceptional. People know what the idea of exceptionalism means for us: we’re the world’s largest economy, we’re a young country that has quickly achieved world dominance, we have freedoms and an economy that are the envy of people the world over. But all of these are effects of exceptionalism. What Obama did was make an argument for the government as the foundation upon which this exceptionalism is based.
I think that this idea is important, and needs to be highlighted. The biggest benefit of tying these two together, in my mind, is that it would encourage more mature discussion about the future of this country. As I’ve written before, I think the biggest failure of civility in our discourse is the demonization of the other side. In framing the Democratic agenda tonight, Obama made the case for how that agenda is entirely consistent with the things in our history that have made us great. It’s not enough just to be great, we need to continue to invest in those things that have, historically, allowed the American spirit to flourish: good public schools, a strong infrastructure, and support for research and development of cutting edge science and technology.
I watched Congressman Ryan’s response, as well. I was disappointed, not in the content, but in the doomsday scenarios. It provides an interesting contrast, I think, to Obama’s focus on what he thinks makes America strong. We have the party of “Rah Rah America!” sitting here saying that America cant possibly survive the continued governance of the Democrats. Democrats will drive America into the ground. Does he really have so little faith in America? America is strong, and neither party is strong enough to bring the country to her knees.
And one final note: if I ever get to give a response to a State of the Union two days after my state’s football team wins the NFC Championship and I don’t give them a shoutout, I hope the people of my district (I’m looking at YOU Janesville…) vote me out of office. Honestly, Congressman Ryan.