Blood libels aside, this week was dominated by talk of ratcheting down the tone of our political discourse and upping the civility. But the president went further, asking us to "use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations" and "sharpen our instincts for empathy." And he went further still and defined the challenge ahead: "to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American Dream to future generations." The State of the Union is a great opportunity to put flesh and blood on this challenge. The president needs to address both of the ways his administration proposes to "widen the circle of our concern," and the ways citizens can sharpen their instincts for empathy by reaching out to those in need -- rebuilding lives and communities. Without this combined effort, bequeathing the American Dream to future generations will remain just an eloquent rhetorical flourish.
It is when there is a human element to his presidency that Barack Obama tends to stand the tallest. And on Wednesday evening, as he spoke to 20,000-plus at a memorial service at the University of Arizona, there was, if nothing else, an emotional honesty to what he had to say. To a nation looking for clarity, Obama didn't pretend to have all the answers. There is, he noted, a tendency to demand "order" from "chaos," to try and "make sense out of that which seems senseless." Life doesn't always comply.