Obama: “I do not accept second place for the United States of America”


By Joe Campbell
February 5th, 2010

I’ve been meaning to draw attention to Edward Alden’s political take on the most significant sentence in Obama’s State of the Union:

President Obama’s best bipartisan applause line of the speech–“I do not accept second place for the United States of America”–should become the mantra for his administration’s effort to revive its faltering agenda. It captured the central theme of his speech–that the failure of those in the country’s most powerful institutions to rise above their narrow, immediate interests has paralyzed America’s ability to tackle an urgent series of challenges that threaten its future prosperity and global leadership. Yet while Washington fiddles, Wall Street gambles, and the media chortles, other countries are moving ahead.

E. J. Dionne comments on the same line in a column for The New Republic identifying what he labels the sleeper issue of 2010: American decline.

Beneath the predictable back-and-forth between Obama and his Republican adversaries over government spending lies a substantively important difference over how the United States can maintain its global leadership.

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

One thing no one has commented upon is how well this narrative refutes the narrative the right wing is building. I noticed some time earlier that Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney and much of the right wing had been coalescing around the narrative they were pushing about Obama – which I called the Unified Theory of Obama. The conclusion of all their various claims – the story that tied them all together was this:

Therefore, Obama is using his presidency to deliberately and radically weaken America – by spending more money than it can afford to; by destroying its economy with health care reform and cap and trade; by giving up America’s moral leadership of the world (by bowing to foreign leaders and apologizing for past mistakes); by engaging in “various kinds of strategic retreat, most particularly in reversing policies stained by even the hint of American unilateralism or exceptionalism;” by moving away from the Bush administration’s foreign policy and national security approaches thus giving “encouragement — aid and comfort — to the enemy.”

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