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State of Denial

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President Obama’s State of the (Dis)Union speech was disappointing and wide of the mark. Very wide. (So were the rebuttals.) It was more than a lost opportunity. It was a state of denial. 


Lapel pins aside, it was also profoundly disrespectful of our troops, who despite fighting two wars on our behalf, had to wait forty-seven minutes to get a shout out and fifty-four minutes for a standing ovation.   


There’s a reason the dismal mood of the electorate has held steady for the last several years. There is deep dissatisfaction with our national direction and deep anxiety about our future, financial and otherwise. Yet I felt like I was listening to a speech that could’ve been made any time in the last ten years (and that’s only because of an Internet reference). 


For its part, the Congress is going to have to do more than sit together like scolded children at the playground, hoping their parents will let them have another shot at the see saw if they behave.


Here’s an abbreviated version of the speech the President should’ve made:


Good evening, my fellow Americans. Please join me in a moment of silence, not only in honor of the memory of the men and women of our armed forces who paid the ultimate price in protecting our great nation, but also in silent tribute to the families of our service men and women who have made tremendous sacrifices to ensure our freedom. 


Our nation is at war with a determined and unconventional enemy. It’s easy to forget because we have not shared the sacrifice equally. It must be said. 


As your commander in chief, it is my duty to remember and to remind all of us that we are in this together. We must do more than thank our troops and honor them with parades and medals. We must do even more than to make sure they have the resources they need to get the job done and to transition to healthy, productive civilian lives when they return. 


Above all, we must ensure that their sacrifices are critical to our national security. That their mission is worth the generational cost in lives cut short or forever altered. 


Because of the tremendous hard work and sacrifice of our troops, we face a greatly degraded enemy. While the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not over, they are entering new chapters, even if at different speeds. One where the rule of law, economic development, and respect for human rights—in other words, nation building—is paramount. 


There is no question that there is much work still to be done, particularly in Afghanistan. But there is also no question that we have priorities here at home that are not being met, that cannot be met, because of the tremendous financial costs of these deployments.


Simply put, we can no longer afford to foot the bill, literally or figuratively, for two wars that in my considered judgment are no longer vital to our national security. Important, yes; vital, no longer. 


This is especially true in Afghanistan. It is no longer a safe haven for al Qaeda. We can manage the threat from extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan through means other than boots on the ground. And we will. 


So I’m bringing our troops home over the next several months. 


Let me be clear: This does not mean we are giving up the fight, just changing how we do battle. I will not allow an organization, individual or country to threaten the safety of the United States. You have my word on that.  


Bringing the troops home will provide the resources we need to tend to our urgent national priorities, like fixing our economy, creating jobs, and restoring our sense of promise as a nation. These are my top priorities moving forward. 


I don’t think Washington has really understood the pain facing many—too many—Americans. Unemployment and underemployment have been persistent and troublesome. Many of us feel like the American dream is on life support. That must change.  


Although symbolism is important, Congress must do more than politely sit next to each other. It might make some feel good but it’s not going to get the job done. 


I need a Congress whose members do not have regard for the political affiliation of the man or woman they’re sitting next to. I need a Congress that is ready to roll up its sleeves and start solving America’s problems, which have been allowed to fester and grow for entirely too long. Frankly, it’s a disgrace. And I think the message is clear that we the people have had enough. 


When times are tough there are rarely easy choices. This is exactly the predicament we find ourselves in now. I do not want to raise taxes on anyone but those making more than $350,000 a year simply must pay their fair share. The middle class can give no more. 


We must balance spending cuts with sensible investments that will result in a more robust economy in the future. So I ask Congress to send me a budget that is mindful of the present, forward-thinking, and scrubbed down to the last penny. If there is a single cent of pork I will veto it. Period. It is unconscionable for Americans to lose their jobs, homes, and all hope for the future while Congress funds pet projects. Your job is not re-election. Yes, I said it. Your job is to solve America’s problems. So is mine. 


The other night I was watching an interview with Jon Stewart and Anand Giridharadas, an author who was born in Ohio. He was born to parents who emigrated from India. And guess what? For a time, he moved back. To India. His sister also toyed with the idea of moving to India. The American dream in reverse. Is this what we’ve come to? 


Giridharadas also made what I consider to be an extraordinarily important point. He observed that India and China are creating cultures of hope. Cultures of, we can do this. Whereas in America, he said, we now have a culture of destruction and tearing one another down.


Those are sobering words.  


And as much as I hate to I agree with him, I do. We have stopped believing in ourselves. There is no more shared sacrifice. The middle class keeps getting squeezed and squeezed to the point that it is in severe crisis. But where is their relief? They can’t get any because that would mean asking Warren Buffet to pay more taxes. People continue to lose their homes just because someone had the misfortune to get sick. 


Or because someone ripped them off. Shame on us for letting it happen. America rose to greatness because we valued hard work, equality, fairness, and opportunity. Sure, we’re a nation that believes in the promise of the individual. But we are also a nation that believes there is nothing we can’t do if we summon our collective will. At least we used to be.  


I know it’s cliché, but let’s remember we journeyed to the moon. We can fix our economy and reclaim Main Street. We can repair our crumbling roads and bridges. We can invest in education and new technology and lead the world in cleaner, more efficient, cheaper living. 


We must do this together. No more monkeying around. No more dillydallying. Working together as Americans, united in our common interest to provide a better future for our children than the one we had, we can restore America’s promise. No just in word and not just for a few, but in fact for all of us. 


But as Einstein said, you cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it. 


We must put an end to the self-centered, greedy—dare I say—un-American thinking that got us into this mess. We must reach across political, economic, social, and religious lines. Or we lose the right to complain about the mess we have all gotten ourselves into. 


Tomorrow I am going to unveil a set of very specific proposals to get us going. Let us judge them not as Democratic ideas but as American ones and debate them openly, honestly, and constructively.  


We cannot waste anymore time. We must get to work.


Thank you and God bless America.

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