I admit it. I was hoping the president would open by serenading us with a reprise of "Let's Stay Together" at the State of the Union last night, but alas, it felt more like "You and Me Against the World."
Yes, tonight I got a chance to catch a glimpse of the man I voted for nearly four years ago. Sure, his hair is grayer now, and his talk, though still optimistic, is tinged with pragmatism, defiance, and a dash of weariness.
For example, when he said there is a "deficit of trust," I don't think that deficit is confined to just cynicism of Wall Street, government, or one party over another. There is a deficit of trust that things can really improve no matter who is in office. There is an underlying fear that we might all end up like the proverbial Italian cruise ship tossed on its side.
This brings me to the main theme of tonight's speech: fairness. The president repeatedly pointed out to the very people who don't seem to get this (Congress) that everyone should play by the same set of rules. Well, duh. While it seems unimaginable that the good people assembled in the room tonight would not already know that, the fact that he needed to bring it up is clearly not a good sign.
That is where I think the Republican and Democratic parties diverge -- in their fundamental beliefs about fairness and responsibility. The president spoke of a "shared sense of responsibility." This should not be a new or radical idea to anyone. Our country was built on it, wars were fought and won because of it, and we will perish without it.
It shouldn't be radical to say that everyone should be playing by the same set of rules, that those who have been fortunate enough to make a lot of money here should pay taxes commensurate with their earnings. That is fair, not radical, progressive, liberal, socialist, or any of the other names frequently bandied about by the other side.
Yes, this was an evening of stark contrast: Gabby Giffords with her life-affirming smile juxtaposed with Eric Cantor and his perpetual stinkeye. It was Hillary Clinton, travel-weary from keeping the world from killing each other juxtaposed with John Boehner's look of perpetual disdain.
I don't pretend to know the outcome of the 2012 election or the future of our country, but I do know that we've grown less civil, more judgmental, quick to criticize and hesitant to trust. 2008 was the election of "yes we can," and hope and change. What will 2012 be? I'd like to think that optimism is more powerful than pessimism, that hope for a brighter future trumps bleak predictions of doom, that a leader who asks something of us collectively is more appealing than one who says it's every man for himself.
I know, I know. I've got big dreams. But now, Mr. President, would be a really good time for that second chorus of "Let's Stay Together."
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