Question: From a leadership perspective--moving the country and the political process away from division and gridlock and toward consensus, confidence and action--how would you grade President Obama's State of the Union speech?
A great beginning ("sit together tonight, and work together tomorrow") and a great theme ("Winning the Future"). And, like most of these speeches in the past, the rest is pretty much forgotten.
As leaders take us to places we've never been before, Obama appealed to higher purposes, and especially higher aspirations; about "ordinary people who do extraordinary things." He grounded his remarks by building upon "the American dream" and referring to himself, the vice president and Speaker of the House as individuals not born to power or prestige and who, "only in America," could rise to such positions of prominence and responsibility. He also reached out to his adversaries, not just many Republicans but also to many conservatives in admitting that we all desired and deserved a government that would live within its means.
His speech was not so much unlike our recent reminder of Martin Luther King's famous "I Have A Dream" remarks. He was long on possibilities, painting an ennobling future, rather than providing a particular tactical plan about how to get there. And, not unlike King, who reminded his audience that "we would have to struggle together, to stand up together," Obama also reminded today's audience that the discussions would be difficult and urged us "not to be discouraged, but to be challenged" by them. This was not unlike what the late John Gardner, adviser to six American presidents, maintained: "We are all continually faced with a series of great opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems."
The president only gets one or two shots each year to connect with the American people. I thought he did a pretty good job of making the most of this opportunity.