Commentary: Obama Goes Gospel in Big Speech

The president invoked two gospel songs to drive home the message of his State of the Union speech.

Posted: 01/25/2012 01:56 AM EST
Keith Boykin, politics, state of the union, president Barack Obama

(Photo: Courtesy keithboykin.com)

Just days after he sang Al Green at the Apollo Theater, President Obama invoked an old gospel hymn to frame his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

"The state of our union is getting stronger," the president said, "and we've come too far to turn back now."


Many African-Americans surely recognized the language, and many others simply appreciated the sentiment. In the year since President Obama's 2011 State of the Union speech, millions of young adults have gotten health insurance, the economy has created 1.9 million private sector jobs, the war in Iraq has come to an end, and Osama bin Laden and Moammar Gadhafi have both been taken out.


As Andrew Sullivan wrote recently, if Bush had accomplished just part of what Obama has done, "he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now."


President Obama rightly acknowledged that more work needs to be done, but he also seemed to channel another gospel song when he warned, "I will not go back" to the days "when health insurance companies had unchecked power" or when "Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules."


Republicans, like Mitch Daniels, who delivered the GOP response, immediately attacked President Obama's speech and his presidency for "constant efforts to divide us." But it was Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell who admitted his top priority in recent years has been to defeat Obama.


Even before the president entered the room Tuesday night, Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King proudly tweeted, "I'm wearing a gift tie from Rep Joe Wilson who yelled out 2 years ago."


How do you expect President Obama to negotiate with people who disrespect him, yell at him, and publicly declare their goal to get rid of him?


While the Republicans continue playing the politics of division, President Obama used the inspiring story of Seal Team 6 as a metaphor for Americans working together. "It doesn't matter if you're Black or white, Asian, Latino, Native American, conservative, liberal, rich, poor, gay [or] straight," he said. "When you're in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind."


Could you imagine Newt "food stamp" Gingrich or Mitt "class warfare" Romney ever speaking so inclusively about all Americans? Probably not.


On Tuesday night President Obama reminded Americans who's really on their side. He ended his speech with the traditional God bless America line, but he could have just as easily finished with Al Green's famous words: "Let's Stay Together."


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