The State of the Union as Rorschach Test

urlIt was surprising how President Obama’s State of the Union speech went down. Immediately afterwards, television pundits offered clashing descriptions: prosaic, bread and butter, Clinton-like, an extension of the liberal agenda outlined in the Inaugural Address, uplifting, aggressive, and so on.  More than many Presidents, Obama has become a lighthouse and a lightning rod at the same time. He is the object of projection from all sides.

What I heard was something really unusual: inspiring sobriety.  The speech laid out an agenda that was far from leftist.  It was a considered assessment of social needs, postponed priorities, and a difficult future.  In this regard Obama departed from FDR, who was struggling to restructure a collapsed landscape, from JFK, who was launching a new era of power, and from Bill Clinton, whose laundry lists of programs came at a time of rising prosperity.

Obama spoke to an anxious nation by sounding upbeat and optimistic. He has little chance of getting much legislation passed.  In the face of bitter partisanship even over pro forma matters like getting his cabinet appointed, he decided not to cloak himself as the happy warrior.  He was more like the ideal citizen, a responsible patriot who wants the best for everyone.

It’s amazing that the speech didn’t exude discouragement.  In a different vein, it could have come from Cassandra, the princess of Troy who was doomed to know the future but never to be believed.  Every point that the President made, if enacted, would benefit all of us. He is intelligent, adult, informed, far-seeing, and willing to embrace both sides of the aisle.  He knows better than anyone else how irrational, ill-tempered, and reactionary the opposition is. But he chose his tone of inspiring sobriety for a good reason. America won’t move forward until everyone comes to their senses.

The Republican response, delivered by Sen. Marco Rubio, was a classic case of burying your head in the sand. With widespread disgust at Congress, a new generation of voters that wants government to make a difference, a resounding defeat last November, and talk of Republicans rethinking their message– none of that mattered. Rubio smoothly delivered the same message that came from the Republicans a month into Obama’s first administration: We are the party of no.

Obama will no doubt surprise us by how much he achieves against this background of opposition, division, and angst. There is talk that the Senate is quietly working out deals on the toughest problems that face us. But the real issue comes down to that now familiar phrase, the tipping point.  The country has probably reached one. The reactionary right is on its way out. But they hold enough power and have indoctrinated enough people that getting off in a new direction will be painfully slow. Obama will have to use all his gifts to push the pedal and convince Americans that there is dawn rising over the next hill.

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About Deepak Chopra

Time Magazine heralded Deepak Chopra as one of the 100 heroes and icons of the century, and credited him as "the poet-prophet of alternative medicine." Entertainment Weekly described Deepak Chopra as "Hollywood's man of the moment, one of publishing's best-selling and most prolific self-help authors." He is the author of more than 50 books and more than 100 audio, video and CD-Rom titles. He has been published on every continent and in dozens of languages. Fifteen of his books have landed on the New York Times Best-seller list. Toastmaster International recognized him as one of the top five outstanding speakers in the world. Through his over two decades of work since leaving his medical practice, Deepak continues to revolutionize common wisdom about the crucial connection between body, mind, spirit, and healing. His mission of "bridging the technological miracles of the west with the wisdom of the east" remains his thrust and provides the basis for his recognition as one of India's historically greatest ambassadors to the west. Chopra has been a keynote speaker at several academic institutions including Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, Harvard Divinity School, Kellogg School of Management, Stanford Business School and Wharton.His latest book is "Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul."