The Joplin Globe
President Barack Obama began his fifth State of the Union address by invoking the words of another.
Quoting John F. Kennedy, he said: “The Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress.”
“It is my task,” he said, “to report the State of the Union — to improve it is the task of us all.”
Unlike previous speeches, there was something off about this one. The applause was a half beat behind the lyrics, the standing ovations more “do we or don’t we” than spontaneous shows of support. If it wasn’t for the rousing gun control response at the end of the evening, it would have been akin to watching an Oscar host deliver one flat line after another.
It was more a cross between a college professor lecturing his undergrads and an old-time preacher addressing a congregation of squirming sinners.
Invoking Kennedy was also out of tone. While Kennedy most certainly inspires, the cut he can inflict when the inevitable comparison comes can be very, very deep.
And President Obama is no exception.
Proposing over two dozen new government programs is a far cry from “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Promising those programs will not add a single dime to the deficit is a long way from “I am submitting for fiscal 1963 a balanced federal budget.”
A philosophy that someone else can make it “easier” is certainly not “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Kennedy’s words still inspire today not because they were delivered by a charismatic speaker — they inspire because they speak to the very heart of the American soul.
That, yes, we must work together, but that our achievement is not given by government, it is earned through the courage, sacrifice and dedication of millions of free individuals, each doing his or her own part.
President Obama is a speaker of great skill, but if he ever wants to see his words translated into action, he must do more than just quote Kennedy.
He must lead like him as well.