10/15/2013 09:37 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Speech I Wish the President Would Give

My Fellow Americans,

I want to speak to you about the crisis that faces our nation.

The rhetoric between Republicans and Democrats has corroded the cohesiveness of our country. Bit by bit, piece by piece. Our collective dialog is now filled with recrimination, retribution, and unhelpful reaction.

The political discussion at all levels -- from city councils to state legislatures to Washington -- is now harmful to our national interests and our national security.

No one is blameless here. Not even me.

So I am asking both sides of the aisle to stand down, to stay away from microphones and keyboards, to cool their frustration, and to think about what's truly best for the people who elected us.

You see, our country works best when there are two strong political parties.

And our country can only work when lawmakers from both sides of the aisle know that deep down we are still a country of laws, of respect, of opportunity, and of peace.

The Republicans today are handicapped by a few in their party who are exploiting the rules to not just bring down the Affordable Care Act, but to impose the dire economic consequences of not raising our national debt limit.

The ACA is the law of the land. The debt limit must be raised so that we can meet our obligations to ourselves and to the people around the world who have lent us money. Arguing about this is like arguing about gravity; it does not change reality.

If Congress believes it is in the interest of the nation to spend less, let's have that debate. I welcome it. Let's have a budget that spends less.

If Congress believes that a law is job-killing, or anti-business, or unconstitutional, then let's have that debate too. Let's look at the facts, the numbers, and the decisions of the Supreme Court. And then make a decision and move on.

Democrats and Republicans are not always going to agree on what's in the best interests of the nation. Even their internal views can change over time.

For example, just five decades ago Southern Democrats did not support the laws that made it possible for a black man to live free in his own country, or run for President of the United States. And history teaches that a century ago the only president who ever held a doctorate degree did not originally believe that women should even vote, never mind run for president.

Today we look back on those fundamental social changes with deep appreciation for the strong leaders who made principled decisions about equality, justice, and opportunity for all of our people regardless of their gender, their skin color or religious beliefs.

And we know that no party holds a monopoly on truth, aspiration, or commitment to our national cause.

In the election of 2008, my opponent instinctively deflected the opportunity to reduce our contest to something less than a difference on how we should solve our nation's problems. An honorable man with a lifetime of achievement and implacable courage, he will forever be remembered for that single moment when his innermost character shined.

He took the high road of integrity and not the dirt path of partisanship, demagoguery and hollow political gains. We need to remember what John McCain taught us that night in 2008.

And we need to remember America needs both parties to be at their best.

The Republicans need some time and space to right their ship. It will not be an easy process. The shutdown is disrupting the lives of millions of Americans whose livelihoods depend on the business of governing, of teaching, of serving, and of protecting our great country.

So I encourage all Americans -- Democrats, Republicans, and Independents -- whether you were in favor of the Affordable Care Act or against it, whether you understand the debt limit or you don't, to seize this opportunity and to renew your commitment to our country.

Take this time to understand why we have shut down and focus on the long view of our fundamental identity and character as a nation.

A year from now nobody will remember what this quarter's GDP was. But a hundred years from now people will remember how we resolved this difference, how we used it to strengthen our system, and to bring both parties toward the center of our diverse interests.

If we solve this problem with a temporary measure we will be kicking yet another problem to our children.

If we exploit the wounds of loss born of principled stands we invite retribution, anger, and worse.

But if we use this crisis to strengthen the clear voices of reason and fairness, we can emerge as a more united country, a more competitive country, and a more prosperous and fair country.

This is what I want for my daughters, and this is my vision for the future.

So I ask you tonight, my fellow citizens: don't expect a quick solution, demand a good one.

I have no illusion that one speech by one president is going to permanently change the harsh tone of our debate.

But in this time, in this place, it is a start. And it begins with me.

In the days that come, and in the generations that follow, there will be hard questions, questions of life and death, questions of justice and equality. The temptations of passion will rule and screaming ideology will reign supreme for a little while.

But we have a Constitution, a Congress, a Supreme Court, a president, and a free press.

Together we can extinguish the false fires of pride and prejudice, and expel the dark smoke that clouds our judgment.

Together we can rekindle the eternal flame that connects us to each other, to our guiding principles, and to our special and undeniably exceptional form of government.