Obama on the worst and best of politics

The fourth of President Obama’s main points in his State of the Union speech was on the worst and best of politics.

And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

That’s a huge challenge for the US – see US dysfunctional democracy.

“We the People.” Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that’s how we might perfect our Union. And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

The future we want — all of us want — opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids — all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.

Fixing toxic politics is a major modern challenge.

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country — different regions, different attitudes, different interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice. It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention. And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

Unfortunately the old media are tending more towards promoting extremes, and the newer social media seems dominated by more extreme views and more extreme behaviour.

And politicians and parties use and abuse this.

In New Zealand division seems to remain a major political weapon.

Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task — or any President’s — alone. There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base. I know; you’ve told me. It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. And a lot of you aren’t enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor.

Most people who dislike the the rankor are turned off by and turn away from politics.

But that means if we want a better politics — and I’m addressing the American people now — if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President. We have to change the system to reflect our better selves. I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around. Let a bipartisan group do it.

Our political systems are close to being good enough in New Zealand, but they way they are misused by parties remains a problem.

We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.

Money is nowhere near the same level of problem in New Zealand. Last election voters rejected the big money of Colin Craig and Kim Dotcom.

And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution — because it’s a problem. And most of you don’t like raising money. I know; I’ve done it.  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder. We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  This is America: We want to make it easier for people to participate. And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

Changing big money dominated campaigning in the US will be very difficult, if not impossible.

But I can’t do these things on my own. Changes in our political process — in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected — that will only happen when the American people demand it. It depends on you. That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.

But politicians have become notorious at ignoring the people, or only listening to the people that suit their way of thinking.

What I’m suggesting is hard. It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don’t care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future. Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure. And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

We can’t afford to go down that path. It won’t deliver the economy we want. It will not produce the security we want. But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.

There are many contradictions with how the US acts and how the world sees it.

So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it — our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.

People need a collective way of doing that. Most don’t feel they have any way of being listened to.

We need every American to stay active in our public life — and not just during election time — so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day.

That’s totally unrealistic. You can’t make people feel engaged and be engaged in politics all the time. People need to feel they have the opportunity to be listened to, but want to be able to forget and ignore politics when they choose.

A significant number of people probably never will want to engage in politics. They can’t be forced to.

It is not easy. Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far. Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.

So when he has far less power and influence he will start to change things then, after eight years of being top dog in US politics? Sounds like too little far too late.

That’s the America I know. That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Undaunted by challenge. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

‘Unconditional love’ is an odd thing in the mix, especially when Obama is so intent on destroying enemies.

‘Unarmed truth’ is very ironic from the leader of the most powerful armed forces in the world. Many people will be sceptical of ‘truth’ associated with politicians and big government.

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  1. Brown

     /  14th January 2016

    Limp wristed nancy boy pretending he’s playing the man’s game. He’s translated, “Walk softly, carry big stick” into ”Walk softly, run away”. He couldn’t lead Muslims to Mecca.

    • Blazer

       /  14th January 2016

      he will be relieved when his term ends ,no doubt.The hope and promise his first election inspired ,proved to be false.The establishment prevailed as usual…and he even mentioned ..remember what happened to Dr King!

      • One option they have is to just go along with the worst? The President becomes a corporate-political position appointed by whoever it is actually running the show. Perhaps the Office of President already is exactly that?

        “our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others …”

        We don’t even acknowledge good political oratory any more. Such is the level scepticism has reached. Septicism (2nd new word coined today).

  2. kiwi guy

     /  14th January 2016

    “…It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice. It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America. ”

    He’s trying to hang it on right wingers but in fact it is Progressives or Leftist who argue that there is an evil oppressor “class” literally raping and murdering all the females, transexuals and blacks they can get their hands on. And if you question that narrative then you are a “fashist shitlord!”.

  3. kiwi guy

     /  14th January 2016

    Trump turns his attackers accusations and poisonous jabs into strengths. No wonder they HATE him:

    “Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump says South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is right that he is one of the “angriest voices” — but Trump said that’s a good thing for America.

    “She is right. I am angry, and a lot of other people are angry too at how incompetently our country’s being run,” Trump said Wednesday night on CNN’s “Erin Burnett Outfront.”

    “I don’t care, let her refer to me. As far as I’m concerned, anger and energy is what this country needs,” he continued.”


    • Trump’s just such an admirable guy, eh KG? Eh?

      So, let me get this right, Trump counters being criticised, which he sees as being put down, by criticising and putting down his opposition?

      That’s radically new strategy, isn’t it!? Incredible! I don’t know if I can believe it?

      And what’s more, people see him as being different from the rest, right?

      The Yanks have given up on issues and policies, there’s only “personality games”.

      Perhaps Nostradamus’ prediction of Obama being the last US President will come true?
      When Trump threatens to win, the Senate and House of Reps will sensibly alter the Constitution to prevent him?

  4. kiwi guy

     /  14th January 2016


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