I never watch the damn thing. I hate applause. But here are my reactions to the prepared remarks.
We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world. For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.
If this were a sitcom, there’d be some canned laughter after the first sentence. (Okay, maybe it’s a very bleak sitcom.) Invading Iraq made us less safe and less respected around the world. Iraq was no serious threat to us. Iran is now stronger, the result of no longer having a serious adversary on its borders. Hundreds of thousands resent us now for destroying their homes and killing their loved ones. These people will raise the next generation of terrorists.
All of this is undoubtedly true, whatever you may have thought about the war ex ante.
The previous administration worked tirelessly to reinforce the idea that Iraq was a harbor for al Qaeda, that Iraq played a role in 9/11, and that 9/11 justified our actions there. They did so not by saying it outright, which would have been too bald-faced a lie even for them, but by always mentioning them in the same breath — knowing full well that large majorities of Americans already believed this falsehood.
If George W. Bush had said the above paragraph, it would have fit the pattern perfectly, and his critics would rightly have objected. Barack Obama just said it. And so what do we make of it? Some people will pass over it in silence. I won’t. This was something that the left would have howled about a few years ago. Why not now?
These achievements are a testament to 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. Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.
I know that I will be reviled for what I’m about to say, but to imagine that our economy and the rest of our society should be run just like the military is the very essence of fascism.
Don’t achieve your personal ambitions. Don’t try to be different from others. Conform. Work together. We can be great, but only — only — if we are regimented and disciplined like the military. I will lead you.
Again, if George W. Bush had said this, the left would howl. They would have been right to do so. (No, it’s cool. I’ll howl for you. Just this once.)
What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries. It can happen in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh. We can’t bring back every job that’s left our shores. But right now, it’s getting more expensive to do business in places like China. Meanwhile, America is more productive. A few weeks ago, the CEO of Master Lock told me that it now makes business sense for him to bring jobs back home. Today, for the first time in fifteen years, Master Lock’s unionized plant in Milwaukee is running at full capacity.
I care about swing states. Foreigners are scary.
There follow a bunch of proposals — vague, and it may be a stretch to call them “proposals” — for cutting taxes on corporations. (Are you sensing a theme here?) Then more about scary foreigners and how much we love one of our tribe’s favored groups — educators.
The parts about shale gas — that is, fracking — were unexpected to me. Sure, it’s not coal, but the praise for fracking isn’t going to endear Obama to his base. Am I being too cynical when I speculate that most people won’t know enough to connect “fracking” and “shale gas”?
I recognize that people watching tonight have differing views about taxes and debt; energy and health care. But no matter what party they belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right now: Nothing will get done this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken.
Can you blame them for feeling a little cynical?
No. No, you can’t. This is what happens when you try to run the economy like a military. Everyone loves the cohesion and camaraderie of the military, the competence, the can-do attitude. It’s really and truly great — for some purposes. But not for all. A military has a relatively clear purpose or objective, to which all things are subordinate. An economy exists to satisfy all kinds of different wants and needs, and it isn’t at all clear which ones should take precedence. The illusion of camaraderie and competence evoked by military analogy falls apart at first contact with this enemy. Bickering takes its place. And then? Well, we need a strong, military-type leader to set things right:
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. One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job – the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs. 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.