Fire and Ice: One Speech, Two Rebuttals, and a Report Card – Part 1

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Part 1: Fire

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Barack Obama gave America just what it needed – a generous helping of optimism.

We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.

The speech was full of that sort of thing, and we needed to hear it, even if we don’t yet see it reflected in our own lives. We needed a reason to hope, and we got it.

In full leadership mode, Obama set us some goals.

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

And now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.

Goals without deadlines are meaningless, and Obama gave us both:

[B]reak our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.

[O]ver the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.

By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.

Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans.

Then came the reality we also needed to hear…

[T]he final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.

…and, two paragraphs later, what seems to be the most self-contradictory statement imaginable.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.

Now, I promised to keep my mind open, and it is. But what I want to know is how do we prepare 100,000 new teachers, build high-speed rail lines and high-speed rural internet, and all the rest of it with domestic spending frozen for the next five years? Where’s the pixie dust that will let us do that? And, at the same time,

make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.

I want to believe all this is possible, but for now my vision is too dim, my view too obscured by the pain I see all around, by the shuttered stores and boarded-up houses, the crowd at the food pantry door an hour before it opens. I want to believe what Obama says is possible.

He says we’re getting out of Iraq this year. OK, there’s some money saved. A lot, actually, if the Pentagon doesn’t find the need for it elsewhere. But not enough.

Obama says

[I]f we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It’s not a matter of punishing their success. It’s about promoting America’s success.

Of course, but can you see that idea taking hold in Congress?

“We do big things,” Obama said.

From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.” “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.” “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.” “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there. I know we will.”

We do big things.

The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.

[Scroll down for Part 2.]

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One Response to “Fire and Ice: One Speech, Two Rebuttals, and a Report Card – Part 1”

  1. The most important moment in his speech was the emphasis put on cooperation and reaching compromises because that is what we need right now. Look at the debate about the health care repeal. If the politicians really care about ordinary people and their problems they wouldn’t engage in these political battles and would try to work together in order to find the best possible solution as far as health care insurance is concerned.

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