I’ll tell you what, by the end of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, I was feeling a little bit, a little bit, what? Incited? Motivated? Inspired? It’s hard to know exactly what it was I felt, because it didn’t last long.
No doubt, the President did his best to seize his own personal Sputnik moment, trying to regain what he had in 2008, before the health-care debate, the bank-reform debate, before the rowdy tea-party movement, before the mid-term elections. It was a good speech, as these speeches go. Obama’s biggest gift is his oration, and this is the ideal setting to show off that skill.
The idea of building, or rebuilding, the nation to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, or however he phrased it, is nice enough, and there’s certainly nothing wrong about it. Dennis Gartman, who edits and publishes the Gartman Letter, said it was “a speech that the high school speech teachers around the country might grade decently, giving it a “B+” perhaps, but only because the student in question had always done good work in the past and deserved at least the benefit of the doubt.”
Obama’s focus on the “Sputnik moment” (or whatever speechwriter focused on it, actually; look, we’re writers here, we like to give writers credit,) actually strikes upon a point I’ve made in the past: that our eras of growth, real, solid growth, have always have some fundamental thing to spark them. Today we lack that thing, which is why the economy seems to be just drifting along.
But that wasn’t the President’s point. By choosing Sputnik as his metaphor, what he was saying is that a metaphorical Soviet Union — the Chinese, the Indians, the entire developing world, the Jersey Shore cast, whomever — is storming our gates. It’s a good metaphor, but it misses the point. It misses our real Sputnik moment.