Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The State of the Union

My first January in Los Angeles, I asked one of my cousins where people were getting together to watch the State of the Union address. She said something like, "People watch the State of the Union address?"

Last night, for my first State of the Union in the DC area in 14 years, I went to pub trivia with Claire and Zach and their friend Tristan, and I read the speech online this morning.

The problem is, we agreed over bacon cheese fries and Irish beer, that the President is never honest about the true State of the Union. If he were honest, the speech would have gone something like this:
My fellow Americans,

The state of our union is baffled, angry and sad. We don't understand why we can't have everything we want even though most of us spend at least four hours a day watching TV, and another two playing Candy Crush. We look around and see obnoxious young bro-types earning six figures while our friends who are teachers haven't gotten a raise in five years, and we live in fear of our own job skills becoming obsolete and unnecessary.

You elected me because you hoped the country could be different and better, but you forgot the part where that meant its citizens could be different and better, too. It's just easier to blame everybody else, and the government is being torn apart between people who think it shouldn't exist at all and people who think it's capable of doing far more than it can. And nobody wants to pay for it.

It's easier to be outraged than to be empathetic. It's easier to point to other people's shortcomings than it is to look at what each of us could be doing differently as individuals. The ugly truth of life in a human community is that stuff tends to go to the people who want it most and are willing to fight dirtiest for it. We know that's true about ourselves; our founders knew it, too. That was why they set up a government that was supposed to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Well, we're doing pretty well at providing for the common defense. I guess. Nobody can agree on what "promoting the general welfare" means, and as for the blessings of liberty — well, explain to me the logic of a political party that wants government out of people's business, on the one hand, but insists on setting rules about who individuals can marry and what women do with their bodies, on the other. Explain to me the rhetoric of "saving" children yet unborn while cutting off support for their food, shelter and education once they're here. I don't get it. I really don't. Everybody counts, or no one does.

Our Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to worship, but some people seem to think that only applies to one religion. I'm here to tell you that the Constitution protects your right to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, if you believe in that, and it is not the business of any government organization to make anyone uncomfortable about what they do or don't believe.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people is what our country is supposed to be about. Government is not supposed to be something separate from us. It's a citizen's republic that requires everyone who cares about it to participate. It's not a perfect system, but our government is not the enemy, and we have the power to change it if we want to.
Some people are never going to like me. They might have good reasons, they might have bad reasons, but that's just the way it is. It's probably true that I wasn't ready to be President, but let's be honest: who is ready to be President? Can you name one single person who's really equipped to handle this job — with the possible exception of Bill Clinton, who's only equipped because he spent eight years learning how? It doesn't matter whether I was ready five years ago. The country was ready for me and what I represented, and that's a hopeful thing. It's still a hopeful thing. And here I am, and I'm what you've got, so deal with it. Let me do the job I was elected to do.
Democracy is messy — or, to be more precise, participatory government in a federal constitutional republic is messy. Change takes time. It's actually for the best that change takes time, because change is always traumatic, and meaningful change always means that somebody has to lose something. It's going to hurt, but isn't it better to take the pain now than leave it to our children to suffer even more? 
So my fellow Americans, what I ask of you today is to stop yelling. Stop assuming that everyone who disagrees with you is stupid or greedy or unpatriotic. Our neighbors are not our enemies. We're all Americans. Let's remember what that's supposed to mean.

God bless us all, and God bless the United States of America.
Of course, since I myself spent last night drinking beer and arguing about the correct spelling of "Mohandas," I recognize that I have become part of the problem.

As it was, we came in second, and got $20 off our bar tab.


Karen Olson said...

Well said.

Judy Bobalik said...

'Stop assuming that everyone who disagrees with you is stupid or greedy or unpatriotic. Our neighbors are not our enemies. We're all Americans. Let's remember what that's supposed to mean.'


Lucia said...

Trying to think of something uncivil to say and all I can come up with is you should have gotten more than $20 off your tab for the spelling of Mohandas...

Zach said...

I'm glad you chose to come out and be part of the problem with us!

Ellen Clair Lamb said...

I really don't know how or where to say this so that people understand I mean it: I do not accept anonymous comments on this blog. You don't have to sign in, but you MUST sign your comment with a name that I recognize, or I will delete it. My name is on this blog, and yours should be too. I delete anonymous comments.

hoyameb said...

"We have met the enemy, and he is us."

(My son went straight from Lutheran confirmation class to Pastafarianism - "Carbo Diem.")

Ellen Clair Lamb said...

My blog, my rules.