Richard Davis: Obama's voice reflects American values, future

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

President Barack Obama

Haraz N. Ghanbari, File, Associated Press

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One of my favorite classic films is "Advise and Consent." Released in 1962, it is about a liberal nominee for secretary of state who is accused of being a Communist. During the Senate debate, a senator from South Carolina opposes the nominee, saying: "His voice is not the voice I want to hear speak for America. It is to me an alien voice."

It is interesting how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Over 50 years later, the charges are similar. For the past four years, President Barack Obama has been accused of being an alien. Even his birth certificate has been questioned. Certainly, his ideas are considered by some to be alien, i.e. by claiming he eschews American values and substitutes instead socialism and European style government.

You decide whether President Obama's proposals in the latest State of the Union speech are alien or not:

President Obama proposed tax reform to make our tax system less complicated and fairer. He urged a plan of tax fairness that doesn't allow billionaires to pay a lower rate than their secretaries.

He announced manufacturing hubs to create more high-tech, high paying jobs.

He proposed a "Fix-It-First" program to rebuild our structurally deficient bridges and form a partnership with business to modernize ports and pipelines.

The president urged every state to invest in high-quality early education programs in order to boost high school graduation rates.

He proposed raising the minimum wage, which has not gone up in nearly four years despite the fact that inflation has risen about 7 percent over that same time period.

He urged Congress to fix the immigration system to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but only after they have met certain conditions including going to the back of the line behind those who seek to come legally.

In the wake of the Newton, Conn., shootings, the president urged tough laws to keep criminals from obtaining weapons.

And he called on Congress to pass legislation to protect computer networks from cyber-attacks.

Are these alien proposals? We can disagree on whether or not they are wise public policy, but these proposals don't sound alien to me. Instead, they actually embrace American traditions. Proposing pragmatic initiatives to the challenges America faces is quintessentially American, as is calling on Americans to sacrifice for the national interest, protecting America's children, helping working families have a decent wage (similar to Social Security for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor), and partnering the public and private sectors to find solutions to our problems.

President Obama's voice is a familiar voice when he urges us to remember that "this country works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others ..." The values of responsibility, hard work and community are inherent in Americanism.

But President Obama's voice hopefully reflects American future as well. He speaks of continuing to care for each other rather than looking out just for number one. He calls on us to include all citizens in the American dream rather than excluding those people some don't like. He urges us to work together to solve our problems — be they declining high school graduation rates or deteriorating bridges — rather telling us we're on our own and best of luck.

At the end of his speech in the film, the South Carolina senator admits that perhaps the secretary of state nominee is "the new voice of my country." Perhaps President Obama's sounds like a "new voice" of the United States. True, it is not a voice of self-centeredness, prejudice or greed that many politicians have used in the past to appeal to the worst in us. Rather, he describes a better tomorrow and urges us to join him in creating it when he says "well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story."

Richard Davis is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of BYU. Email: Richard_Davis@byu.edu.

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