At the beginning he got the big things right. The very start of the speech speaks of a war against the network of violence, an economy badly weakened, homes lost, jobs shed and, less concrete but perhaps more important, "a sapping of confidence...a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable."
Like any new president, he promised to fix tings. But the suspicion here it that it will be a long, hard task.
Can President Obama reform a Congress which for generations now has focused on the trivial: my name on my highway, my earmarks, and so on? To remember a time when Congress dealt with big issues, you have to go back to Vietnam and Civil Rights - a couple of generations ago.
Reforming the Congress will require doing something about the lobbyists - convincing members that staying on the floor and voting on the housing bill may matter more than a fun weekend on a golf course. Congresses haven't thought that way for a while. Can Obama change them? Is it possible to imagine a lobbyist asking himself not what's good for my client but what's good for my country? Once upon a time that was a common question in Washington, but the president who asked it has been dead more than 40 years.
In much of his speech yesterday Obama seemed to be asking ordinary Americans--that's you and me--to do just that, to put our country first. If we don't, he hinted, we, America, may not make it.
So it seems to me that what this somewhat messianic leader is asking for is a kind of national conversion, or a reversion, maybe, to the values of an older America that at least some younger Americans seem to believe in.
Let's hope he gets the conversion. Let's hope that you and I and millions of others join the choir. Let's hope that all those people at all those Obama rallies and all those standing on the Mall yesterday who yelled "Yes, we can!" were right.
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