At the end of his State of the Union address last night, President Obama brought down the house with the story of one speech attendee:
I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day....The president's conclusion:
A few months later, on his 10th deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.
For months, he lay in a coma. And the next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn't speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, hours of grueling rehab every day.
Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again, and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.
"My recovery has not been easy," he says. "Nothing in life that's worth anything is easy."
... men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged.I understand that these shout-outs to special guests are, since the Reagan era, all but mandatory in State of the Union speeches; I understand that the president wants to appeal -- and wants to be seen as appealing -- to the better nature of congressional obstructionists.
But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress: to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice and fairness and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.
The America we want for our kids -- a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us -- none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, the way Cory summoned what is best in him, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow, I know it's within our reach.
But this is a terrible metaphor for what we're going through.
Cory Remsburg's struggle to recover from war injuries (after -- God help us -- ten deployments) really is hard. But what we have to do in this country isn't hard at all; it's relatively easy. Republicans simply have to meet Democrats partway; they have to hash out a few bills in conference committees and cast a few votes. They have to stop acting as if losing a primary to a tea party challenger is a life-altering disaster comparable to, well, the incident in which Remsburg suffered his injuries -- a defeated member of Congress leaves office with health intact, with great benefits, and with many, many opportunities to make very nice money.
But the biggest problem with this analogy is that it plays into the notion that our political problems are caused by lack of effort. We could solve them if we just tried harder. This is particularly damaging to the president himself -- he's blamed for the brick wall of Republican resistance he faces every day. He's not trying hard enough. He's not leading hard enough. The problem isn't that you can't knock down a brick wall of resistance by repeatedly running into it headfirst; the myth is that he really could knock it down if he made a few more runs at it, or ran faster.
America isn't in trouble because the president and other politicians lack guts and persistence. America is in trouble because Republicans are malignant and willful and have terrible ideas. It would be easy for Republicans to do the right thing if they wanted to, but they simply don't want to -- they've dug in their heels and chosen to do the wrong thing until they win the White House, and then they're going to do even more appallingly wrong things, because those appallingly wrong things are what they believe in, and what their donors believe in. And our system lets them do that. In our system, they're free to destroy the country if that's what they decide to do, and if the voters keep voting them back in. Obama can't stop them with greater effort.
Cory Remsburg's story is a stirring one. But it's not America's story. Our politicians make a tremendous effort every day. It's just that some of our politicians treat the rest of us as the enemy.