Saturday, March 28, 2009
The (Daily) Big Picture: Crisis and Service
OBAMA HONORS RESCUE EFFORTS: President Obama used his weekly radio address today to honor the rescue efforts in the Dakotas and Minnesota to save families and communities at risk of devastation from flooding. It was an understated but still moving address, paying tribute to the volunteers who packed a stadium in Fargo to fill sandbags. Obama, the master at tying things together and putting things in context, made the connection between the inspiring scenes of citizens helping out their neighbors and the National Service Act passed by the Senate and House. Obama said that the Dakotans and Minnesotans whose backs ache and hands are sore from serving their community, serving the greater good, in a time of crisis, are an example to us all because "we are all in this together". He called on all Americans to join in the national service program (in which paid coordinators organize volunteers) because we are in a time of crisis.
First, it's a good use of Obama's bully pulpit to honor everyday heroes, to lend his moral support, and show that the country cares. But second, as this is a political blog, I think it's smart strategically to use his address to rise above the partisan squabbling, the myopic selfish shortsightedness of the elite opinion-makers, and call Americans to a higher purpose. The contrast between his determined, not taking any bullshit, "I'm not going to play your games" demeanor in his press conference when dealing with the Washington crowd vs. his deeply respectful, inspiring, and hopeful tone when speaking of the American people in his weekly address was sharp, justified, and politically savvy. When I was concerned about Obama laughing in his 60 Minutes interview, it was because I didn't want ordinary people thinking he had become one of the self-satisfied clubby elites, but this sharp contrast alleviates any concern. People elected Obama because a) he was a serious guy with a serious approach, not at all of Washington and its culture, there to cut through the crap and take care of business, and b) because he represents what is best in all of us, and people are truly inspired by the example of him and his family and by his vision of pulling all Americans together to bring out the best in ourselves and our country.
As Obama is able to move past the immediate concerns of cleaning up the Bush era's mess, he will hopefully expand his appeals and his substantive programs to pull Americans up, tap into the collective yearning to serve. Chuck Todd, our favorite media figure, asked a great question at the Press Conference - "You've said this is the equivalent of World War II: how are you going to call on all Americans to sacrifice?" Obama was very right to say that Americans are sacrificing right now, but Todd hit on something that was at the core of Obama's initial appeal, and that people feel even more strongly now that we are in this crisis: our nation has steadily declined because the culture - most of all in the halls of power in Washington and New York, but not only - is geared toward selfishness, shortsightedness, superficialities. Obama must articulate people's sense that we can't go back to that kind of America, but move toward the America of World War II, where we pulled our economy from recession to unparalleled boom and defeated the mightiest enemies in history, because we all pulled together. As Michelle Obama said about the White House Garden(and the Picturette is surely rolling her eyes because I always bring this up), "Everyone's gotta pitch in. No excuses." Hopefully that will become the defining mantra of the Obama Era.