Did you see President Obama’s recent speech at the University Of Wisconsin?
It made me want to ask him “how’s this ‘hope’ and ‘change’ thing workin’ out for you, Mr. President? And how, exactly do you define ‘progress’, anyway?”
Delivering a speech in the university’s outdoor “library mall” last Tuesday in what was billed as a rally for the “under 30 crowd,” President Obama drew an estimated 10,000 people. It was a sizeable audience, for sure, but smaller than the estimated 17,000 that gathered at the same venue to see candidate Obama two years ago.
As for the mood of the audience, Jake Tapper of ABC News observed that enthusiasm was a bit “dampened” this time around, noting politely that “the crowd is happy to be here, but they do seem to be able to contain their excitement…”
Yet at one crucial point in his speech, President Obama delivered an impassioned diatribe about the struggle for human “progress,” and used that as a backdrop to deliver a special “please don’t abandon me” request. You owe it to yourself to watch the video, but a direct transcript of these remarks reads like this:
“…In every instance, progress took time… in every instance, progress took sacrifice… progress took faith…ya know…the slaves sittin’ around the fire….singin’ freedom songs…they weren’t sure when slavery would end but they understood it was gonna….when women were out there marchin’ for the right to vote…they weren’t sure when it was gonna happen but they kept on goin’….when workers were organizing for the right to organize, and were bein’ intimidated, they weren’t sure when change was gonna come, but they knew it was gonna come, and I am tellin’ you Wisconsin… we are bringin’ about change, and progress is gonna come…but you gotta stick with me, ya can’t lose heart…”
That big chunk of rhetoric drew thunderous applause, and for several reasons it is worthy of careful consideration.For one, the President could not have conveyed his and his party’s desperation more clearly. “Listen, kiddos,” Mr. Obama might just as well have said. “I really, really, REALLY need ya to go out and vote for my party and my agenda in November, cuz this time around yer momma and daddy aren’t gonna…”
But also noteworthy are the metaphors that the President was utilizing. It’s likely that most Americans, regardless of their age, still feel a sense of empathy when they are reminded of the slaves who were “singin’ freedom songs,” or the women who “were out marchin’ for the right to vote.” And perhaps we feel empathetic about workers who were “organizing for the right to organize,” as well – although it seems like President Obama’s word choice was a bit muddled here, and the impact of the “workers” metaphor was a bit deflated.
But beyond drawing applause, and beyond engendering a sense of empathy for previous generations, what was the President attempting to accomplish with this section of the speech? Are we supposed to relate, somehow, to those who were held in a state of slavery, or to the women who were denied their right to vote?
In each of the historic examples that the President noted, there was a clearly defined category of oppressors, and a clearly defined category of victims. But what relevance do these metaphors have for us today, in the era of President Obama? Who, exactly, are the “oppressors” in today’s America, and who among us is a victim? And who – or what – will save us?
Adult Americans aren’t content to simply “vote” every couple of years - we want expanded opportunity and a thriving private sector economy. Yet President Obama has created an expanded public sector, and greater government dependence. Americans also want lower healthcare costs and better healthcare options. Yet, President Obama has brought about a rise in healthcare costs, and an environment that will ultimately lead to fewer healthcare options.
What he once called an effort to “spread the wealth around” is now becoming a situation where we are spreading around our misery. This could be “progress,” as Obama defines it – he has certainly been a harsh critic of American capitalism and prosperity – or it could be failure, depending on what his real objectives might be.
Mr. President, “hope” and “change” are killing us, but how’s it workin’ out for you? And what is “progress” anyway?