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Editorial | Maybe we could have

Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014

Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014 08:01

President Obama has been in office for just five years, but with Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, it can begin to feel like he has been a lame duck president for a while. Conservatives among us would scoff and declare that his administration hasn’t kept its campaign promises since day one. He never had the traditional “100 days” that has served as an unofficial ceasefire of partisan hostilities since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first 100 days of crisis management in 1933. Indeed, once Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky declared at the beginning of the president’s first term in office that the goal of the GOP would be Obama’s failure, his agenda — even in the relatively sacrosanct 100 days — was fought at every turn.

That is why, despite the administration’s best efforts, it’s hard to take policy propositions — like those from the State of the Union address — seriously.  What previously has been an important, agenda-defining speech has unfortunately devolved into, at best, a list of goals and, at worst, an awkward political rally. For Republicans, Obama’s major addresses have long been unworthy of serious treatment and respect — Representative Joe Wilson’s jeer, “You lie!” remains notable. For Democrats, each speech becomes less hopeful and the policy agenda more like a wish list. 

In light of all of this, some still have faith. Large margins of college students helped put the President in office twice, including many Tufts students. Whether it has been waiting to see President Obama kill the Keystone XL pipeline, hoping for him to disabuse Americans of their notion of a post-racial society or waiting for him to truly punish those responsible for the 2008 financial crisis, many of us have been let down. Last night’s State of the Union, though exciting for some of the proposals — an executive order on the minimum wage, a successful-ish start to Obamacare and an emphasis on diplomacy with Iran — remained disenchanting, as Republican representatives and senators declared Obama’s proposals dead before they reach the floor.

Is it really worthwhile to hope for good policy to be made? For great change to be made? Can America still do great things — the things we read in our textbooks and imagine doing ourselves, some of us, in our wildest dreams? Is it possible, as the President said, to “believe it?” 

President Obama’s campaign was so potent because of his vision of an America where, “Yes, we can” bridges partisan divides to better the future. But the impossibility of this optimism became abundantly clear early in President Obama’s first term. The American spirit, which Obama encapsulated during his candidacy, was important: we are a nation of strivers, of regular folks, of “any other human beings” who rise above the titles we have been given and the distinctions others attribute to us. But five years later, the blind-eyed optimism of 2008 has worn out. 

President Obama is less about the “change we can believe in,” and more about the change he can unilaterally make in the last years of his term. Yes, we could have worked together to form a “more perfect union.” But the “fired up, ready to go” presidential candidate from 2008 has lost his momentum, as have we. His emphasis Tuesday night on that which is “within our reach” reveals a less euphoric politician than the history-making man many fought for not so long ago. 

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