Has The Obama Magic Returned?

by George Kennedy on September 9, 2011


Has The Obama Magic Returned?

The president’s address to a joint session of the Congress earlier tonight was vintage Obama 2008. He was out of the bubble. It inspired, it had a sense of urgency, but more than this, it reflected a degree of personal accountability I had not detected in his comments over the past few months. Yes, he could articulate the problem, represent it, even exhort his legislative colleagues to act, but in a detached kind of way.

Tonight’s speech was that of someone who had “skin in the game.” Perhaps the president understands, I mean really gets it. He is a shareholder in the state of and future for the American economy and the return on middle class America’s investment is grossly inadequate.

The president told us tonight he wants our legislators to do better by America; that this is not about our commitments to lobbyists, political benefactors, and campaign contributors. This is about America! This is about who we have been, who we are and the necessity to remain true to that history.

A common thread throughout the history of individual achievements in America has been the spirit of the collective; our responsibility to each other. That spirit manifested itself in the form of the government we chose and that government’s commitment to the greater good. The president asked where we would be without the foresight to build the world’s first true interstate highway system.

The legislation to create the GI Bill of Rights for veterans returning from WW11 and its impact on education in this country, the expansion of the suburbs, and a prosperous standard of living for those willing to work. It was government under a Republican Abraham Lincoln that sponsored the legislation to create Land Grant Colleges in the U.S. It was government that created a social safety net, the social compact that millions of Americans depend upon today to ease the transition into their golden years. President Obama reminded us in dramatic fashion that we cannot remain the greatest enemy to ourselves and thus to our future.

Tonight, the president spoke as a stakeholder in the misery that engulfs over 25 million unemployed. Tonight, Obama threw down the gauntlet to Democrats and, in large measure, to his Republican critics. “We were hired to do a job”, he said and it is time that became our principal focus.

Our allegiance should not be to the commitments we have to others – those whose interests do not intersect with the interests of Americans. In no uncertain terms, he told the assembled group of legislators that the elections of 2012 were 14 months away, but Americans do not have 14 months to wait! We owe them and they need action now! The president was more adamant than I have seen him in recent months.

The president anticipated the Republican response and told them how he would pay for the specific proposals he delineated in his remarks. Had he not done so, tomorrow’s headlines, those advanced by his critics, would have been characterizing him as another big tax-and-spend-liberal. He got in front of the charge.

To lend greater emphasis to his sense of responsibility, he told his audience he intended to take his message to every corner of this country. That statement had perhaps more impact than others. That is precisely what he needs to do because there is a crisis of leadership in the country today – his leadership. The criticism was consistent, it was accurate, it had to sting, and he must have gotten the message. The strategy going forward cannot rely upon an immediate and positive response from Congress.

Rather, it has to persuade Americans that he understands where they are, and that he is capable of the leadership they want. Americans need to view him as someone with a vision and plans to reconnect them to the economy. They, in turn, should put their elected officials on notice to work with him. Has the magic returned? The truth is in the follow up.

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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