President Obama has a unique and final opportunity Tuesday to instill confidence and foster bipartisanship during his State of the Union address. It requires a genuine desire to work with Congress—far more than we have seen from the Administration in years. Now, in the first month of an election year, three weeks before the Iowa caucuses, despite public opinion polls and festering rage, even optimists question our capacity for bipartisan anything.
Mr. Obama’s “change” mantra from the 2008 election campaign inspired millions, myself included. The rhetoric was inspirational—our hopes set high. Better than many, with a track record that close advisors tout as a great legacy, the first seven years fell far short of what many of us had envisioned. Indeed, the White House has appeared more to function as the throne of an imperial presidency, often confounded by an inability to untangle the myriad political conundrums with which it has been presented. In response to a generally frigid reception in Washington, the refreshing waters of change froze over. In the eyes of many former supporters, the President fell victim to partisan swords and became another disappointing politician.
Refreshingly for many, during week’s White House remarks on gun violence the President’s fire re-emerged. We witnessed neither pedagogy nor the paternalistic pummeling that have proven to be ineffective and inappropriate messaging weapons, but rather the provocative and palpable passion of candidate Obama. His genuine and heartfelt commitment to doing what he believes is “right” drives many policy decisions, but in those few seconds of reflection, the raw emotions revealed themselves. The fire in the heart and belly had returned.
Predictably, detractors immediately took up arms, assaulting both the President’s humanity and our collective intelligence. Based upon the previous State of the Union melees and legislative battles of his now Seven Year War with Congress, we would be chumps to expect much of anything in this election year. Nonetheless, the opportunity presents itself to strike a new tone. And it is incumbent upon the incumbent to provide such leadership.
There will be lofty rhetoric on Tuesday evening for sure, and while the President’s “To Do” list might be shorter, we still hunger for agreed upon progress. For economic and national security. For vision. For bipartisanship. For a civil society. For the rebuilding of a great America. For the future of our economy, our children and our world. For solidarity in our shared goals and against our common enemies. For true leadership. Such an honest and heartfelt appeal might be one of the most “presidential’ things the Commander in Chief Obama could do in his final year.
Tuesday is the President’s last opportunity to do his best in this venue: to strike the right tone, deliver the right message, bring us closer together as a people and bridge a few of the deep chasms that divide our parties and politics. For the country, the President needs to get it right this time. And we, the people, need to pay attention with open hearts and minds.