Last night’s oval office address by President Obama contained few surprises. As expected, he walked a fine line that restated his opposition to the war in Iraq and his support for our troops and their mission abroad. He spoke glowingly of the grit and determination of our men and women in uniform and challenged us to display those same qualities as we confront the economic challenges we face at home.
Although President Obama stopped short of either drawing a direct connection between the decisions and actions that led to the war in Iraq and those that led to the economic meltdown or blaming any one individual or party for these failures, he did make one observation that speaks to where his administration intends to invest its energy over the coming months:
Unfortunately, over the last decade, we’ve not done what’s necessary to shore up the foundations of our own prosperity. We spent a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle-class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk.
President Obama has maintained from the outset of his administration that any distinction between national security and homeland security represents a false dichotomy. The policies required to promote our security at home and abroad are the very same ones that promote our equity and prosperity.
He notes that this agenda will require cooperation. It is not something he can accomplish alone.
Like those who brought us to this day and presented the Iraqi people with the opportunity to shape their own destiny, especially those who paid the ultimate price, the President asked us to sacrifice our petty personal interests and political agendas to find common ground. He challenged us to commit ourselves to a shared sense of purpose, one that reengages the spirit of creativity, integrity and productivity needed to shape a better future for ourselves, our children and their children.
If, as the President suggests, our expenditures on the war in Iraq shortchanged investments in our prosperity at home, we mustn’t make the same mistake again. Refusing to put aside our differences and work in earnest to rediscover the essence of community and democracy at home shortchanges the men and women who answered the call to service in Iraq and sacrificed so much for our sake and the future of the Iraqi republic.
We owe it to those who served, those still serving and those who will serve in the future to invest not just in education and innovation, but also in conversation and cooperation. Our best chance of making a better future requires tough choices today, and the toughest may well be making a commitment to leaving our differences in the past.