The Eternal State of the Union, 2015 Update Edition
What happens when you take one sentence from each SOTU since 1961? You realize how empty American speechmaking has become.
Why does the presidential State of the Union Address sound eerily familiar every year? Because like most symbolic art, the speech has to represent the popular superstitions before attempting, and usually failing, to transcend them.
Any year now, we're gonna save Social Security, wean America off foreign oil, and learn from the powerful if humble example demonstrated by Lenny Skutnik and his many successors. We're going to come together regardless of political party, fix our schools, and build the infrastructure necessary to compete in the 21st century. In short, we're cramming into the same rusty food processor the citizenry's unrealistic demands on the presidency, our political class's overwhelming preference for symbolic politics over governance, and a speechwriters' tradecraft that has deteriorated in recent years from merely awful to actively embarrassing.
Before Barack Obama's 2012 State of the Union Address, I cobbled together an almost-plausible speech taking one sentence from each SOTU since 1961. With a little tweaking, and some updating from the grisly selections since then, here now is the 2015 version of our Eternal State of the Union:
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of the Congress:
This week we begin anew our joint and separate efforts to build the American future. The choices we make, for good or ill, may well shape the state of the Union for generations yet to come. We have a unique opportunity and obligation—to prove the success of our system; to disprove those cynics and critics at home and abroad who question our purpose and our competence.
We do not intend to live in the midst of abundance, isolated from neighbors and nature, confined by blighted cities and bleak suburbs, stunted by a poverty of learning and an emptiness of leisure. I have come here to recommend that you, the representatives of the richest Nation on earth, you, the elected servants of a people who live in abundance unmatched on this globe, you bring the most urgent decencies of life to all of your fellow Americans.
We should strengthen the Head Start program, begin it for children 3 years old, and maintain its educational momentum by following through in the early years. And to give the consumer a stronger voice, I plan to appoint a consumer counsel in the Justice Department—a lawyer for the American consumer—to work directly under the Attorney General, to serve the President's Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs, and to serve the consumers of this land.
Although the struggle for progressive change is continuous, there are times when a watershed is reached—when there is—if not really a break with the past—at least the fulfillment of many of its oldest hopes, and a stepping forth into a new environment, to seek new goals. Clean air, clean water, open spaces—these should once again be the birthright of every American. To achieve this, I will submit an expansionary budget this year–one that will help stimulate the economy and thereby open up new job opportunities for millions of Americans. Industrial production, consumer spending, retail sales, personal income all have been rising. But we must never forget that nothing worthwhile can be achieved without the will to succeed and the strength to sacrifice.
I pledge to you tonight that the full powers of this government will be used to keep America's economy producing and to protect the jobs of America's workers. Let us mobilize the most powerful and most creative industrial nation that ever existed on this Earth to put all our people to work. We must introduce a new balance to our economy—a balance that favors not only sound, active government but also a much more vigorous, healthy economy that can create new jobs and hold down prices. We must revise our tax system both to ease the burden of heavy taxation and to encourage the investment necessary for the creation of productive jobs for all Americans who want to work.
We've come through a long period of turmoil and doubt, but we've once again found our moral course, and with a new spirit, we are striving to express our best instincts to the rest of the world. Americans as a united people, working with our allies and friends, have never been afraid to face problems and to solve problems, either here or abroad. As we meet tonight, it has never been more clear that the state of our Union depends on the state of the world. We must have both the military power and the political will to deter our adversaries and to support our friends and allies. By restoring America's military credibility, by pursuing peace at the negotiating table wherever both sides are willing to sit down in good faith, and by regaining the respect of America's allies and adversaries alike, we have strengthened our country's position as a force for peace and progress in the world.
America's leadership in the world came to us because of our own strength and because of the values which guide us as a society: free elections, a free press, freedom of religious choice, free trade unions, and above all, freedom for the individual and rejection of the arbitrary power of the state. We are just now restoring, through the essential modernization of our conventional and strategic forces, our capability to meet our present and future security needs. And tonight,we declare anew to our fellow citizens of the world: Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few; it is the universal right of all God's children.
Closing our eyes will not make reality disappear. And let there be no mistake about American policy: We will not sit idly by if our interests or our friends in the Middle East are threatened, nor will we yield to terrorist blackmail. As the global democratic revolution has put totalitarianism on the defensive, we have left behind the days of retreat.
And so, tonight we must take a strong America and make it even better. Our nation is the enduring dream of every immigrant who ever set foot on these shores, and the millions still struggling to be free. Together, these last 2 years, we've put dollars for child care directly in the hands of parents instead of bureaucracies; unshackled the potential of Americans with disabilities; applied the creativity of the marketplace in the service of the environment, for clean air; and made home ownership possible for more Americans. Further, for the untold number of hard-working, responsible American workers and business men and women who've been forced to go without needed bank loans, the banking credit crunch must end.
It has been too long, at least three decades, since a President has come and challenged Americans to join him on a great national journey, not merely to consume the bounty of today but to invest for a much greater one tomorrow. As we protect our environment, we must invest in the environmental technologies of the future which will create jobs. I want us to cut more spending, but I hope we won't cut government programs that help to prepare us for the new economy, promote responsibility, and are organized from the grassroots up, not by federal bureaucracy.
I challenge every community, every school, and every state to adopt national standards of excellence, to measure whether schools are meeting those standards, to cut bureaucratic red-tape so that schools and teachers have more flexibility for grassroots reform, and to hold them accountable for results. So tonight I issue a call to action: action by this Congress, action by our states, by our people, toprepare America for the 21st century; action to keep our economy and our democracy strong and working for all our people; action to strengthen education and harness the forces of technology and science; action to build stronger families and stronger communities and a safer environment; action to keep America the world's strongest force for peace, freedom, and prosperity; and above all, action to build a more perfect Union here at home. It is a time to build, to build the America within reach, an America where everybody has a chance to get ahead with hard work; where every citizen can live in a safe community; where families are strong, schools are good, and all our young people can go on to college; an America where scientists find cures for diseases from diabetes to Alzheimer's to AIDS; an America where every child can stretch a hand across a keyboard and reach every book ever written, every painting ever painted, every symphony ever composed; where government provides opportunity and citizens honor the responsibility to give something back to their communities; an America which leads the world to new heights of peace and prosperity.
By 2032, the Trust Fund will be exhausted and Social Security will be unable to pay the full benefits older Americans have been promised. Tonight I ask you to work with me to make a bipartisan down payment on Social Security reform by crediting the interest savings from debt reduction to the Social Security Trust Fund so that it will be strong and sound for the next 50 years. We must show courage to confront and resolve tough challenges, to restructure our Nation's defenses, to meet our growing need for energy, and to reform Medicare and Social Security. We must make Social Security financially stable and allow personal retirement accounts for younger workers who choose them.
We can press on with economic growth and reforms in education and Medicare, or we can turn back to old policies and old divisions. Now, as we see a little gray in the mirror—or a lot of gray— [laughter]—and we watch our children moving into adulthood, we ask the question: What will be the state of their Union? Will we choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy, or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity? Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we're willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done.
The strength—the secret of our strength, the miracle of America is that our greatness lies not in our Government, but in the spirit and determination of our people. I think of Leonard Abess, a bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. It's because of this spirit, this great decency and great strength, that I have never been more hopeful about America's future than I am tonight.
We will move forward together or not at all, for the challenges we face are bigger than party and bigger than politics. From the coalitions we've built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we've led against hunger and disease, from the blows we've dealt to our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back. So together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our Union is stronger.
God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.