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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Obama v. Republicans: the value of optimism

Despite President Barack Obama’s repeated assertions that there is no liberal America or conservative America, only the United States of America, last night’s State of the Union and subsequent Republican rebuttal seemed to press home the point that the parties are living in two different worlds.

In Republican-land, as described in the Tea Party response by Rep. Curt Clawson, the American “economy continued sluggish growth, and millions of Americans are still out of work.”

When Republicans look around at their surroundings, according to Sen. Joni Ernst, “We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs. We see the hurt caused by canceled health care plans and higher monthly insurance bills.”

Meanwhile, in the actual United States of America, where science is real and statistics are trusted, the unemployment rate has dropped 2.2 percent, GDP growth has increased 10 percent and the Dow Jones industrial average has more than doubled. This is what Obama referenced when he began his speech with a robust defense of where America is right now and where it is going.

Our central political conflict right now is not so much about politics, per se, as it is about attitude.

Obama’s optimism is going to battle with the Republican Party, which relies on voter dissatisfaction to promote its anti-government message. 

When you’re ideologically opposed to the idea that the federal government can or should function, it’s difficult to do the work necessary to make it function.

So who should the American people believe? Is the 21st century truly a new age, as the president would have us believe? Or are America’s better days behind us, as Republicans seem to suggest?

After all, it’s easy to buy into the president’s empowering and optimistic message when his speech was so dang fun — throwing shade at Republican legislators for cheering that Obama’s campaign days are over, reminding them, “I’ve won two of them,” and following up with a teasing wink. By contrast, the official Republican rebuttal delivered by Ernst sounded like a robocall, looked like a toothpaste commercial and had the policy-heft of an internal talking-points memo.

But the fact of an obstructionist Republican legislative branch is real. The last Congress was the least productive in American history. Why should Americans take comfort in the president’s progressive policy stances on paid family leave, the minimum wage, free and universal community college, increased child tax credits or LGBTQ rights when none of those policies will see the House floor, let alone a presidential pen?

Tone is important. Optimism is important. “Yes we can,” even in the aftermath of the disappointment and turmoil of the past six years, is still a mantra that the American people must believe in.

The problems America does still face cannot be postponed another two years. A deal with Iran can only happen this year. The problems at the Veterans Health Administration must be solved immediately. The window of opportunity to mitigate climate change gets smaller and smaller by the hour. Longtime U.S. residents and community members are deported every day. Tuition inflates further out of reach each year.

I may not have understood the point of Ernst’s bizarre bread bag story, but I assume it was somehow related to the American bootstrap mentality, and that may be one of the only remaining points of agreement between the two parties: We have bootstraps (or bread bags), and we know how to “pick ourselves up.” Answering the president’s challenge to “turn a new page” is a move to grab our collective bootstraps.

The Republicans may benefit from an America that sits on its ass and nurses its wounds, but nobody else does. There’s no easier role to play in American politics than that of a cynic, but you have to believe in the future before you can fight for it.

So, let’s take optimism out for a spin

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Jacquelyn Oesterblad is opinions editor. Follow her on Twitter.

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