For the most part, President Obama’s State of the Union address last night was a dull laundry list of mini-initiatives, much like President Clinton used to deliver — a style calculated to let as many voters as possible hear a shout-out for a cause, which is often as politically effective as it is tiresome. But the speech was bookended with a rhetorical appeal that, while anodyne at first glance, is actually quite distrubing upon reflection.
At the begining of the speech, he praised
the courage, selflessness, and teamwork of America’s Armed Forces. At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations. They’re not consumed with personal ambition. They don’t obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together.
Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example.
And 6000+ words later:
Which brings me back to where I began. Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn from the service of our troops. When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight. When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails. When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one Nation, leaving no one behind.
One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden. On it are each of their names. Some may be Democrats. Some may be Republicans. But that doesn’t matter. Just like it didn’t matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates – a man who was George Bush’s defense secretary; and Hillary Clinton, a woman who ran against me for president.
All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves… More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other – because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there’s someone behind you, watching your back.
So it is with America.
Well, no, it isn’t. The military works as well as it does because it’s made up of volunteers who have sacrificed a great deal of their liberty. America works as well as it does because it’s made of citizens who jealously guard their liberty.
A Navy SEAL team is highly trained to apply controlled violence to further our national security interests as determined by our political leaders, who in turn answer to their constituents. To envision a society that runs like a SEAL team, simply working together, eschewing politics, serving the goals prescribed from the Commander-in-Chief, is to envision a society where the constituents have been taken out of the equation — an undemocratic society that would be unworthy of the SEALs’ protection.
Obama’s rhetoric is all cant, of course; he doesn’t really believe that Congress is going to simply follow his orders. Taken seriously, though, it’s rather chilling.