For many years, I have tasked myself with a simple exercise every January — write a State of the Union address. It has never been an attempt to write what the sitting president, Democrat or Republican, would, could or should say to the nation. It's simply my version of a message.
It is that time of year, and while this year’s State of the Union was delayed by a week for political reasons, here is my message. I will restate, for those whose confirmation bias, instant certainty or politically polarizing vortex will cause them to miss this — I am not suggesting that President Trump would or could deliver this — it is the State of the Union from the perspective of one guy with an opinion.
Madame Speaker, members of Congress and my fellow Americans: We are gathered in the people’s house in our nation’s capital to have a conversation about the state of our union. From this house to your house, wherever that might be in this great nation, I remind you all that I am here to talk about the state of the union — not the state of the government.
I would like to have a different kind of conversation with you tonight. I don’t have a single applause line in this speech. I am going to ask that you listen, not to my voice or to my views, but to the echoes of the principles from America’s triumphant past and the whispers that carry the secrets to our country’s still inspiring future.
Adlai Stevenson said, “Let's talk sense to the American people. Let's tell them the truth, that there are no gains without pains, that we are now on the eve of great decisions, not easy decisions. ... What counts now is not just what we are against, but what we are for. Who leads us is less important than what leads us — what convictions, what courage, what faith. …”
The state of the union has little to do with politics or politicians. It has everything to do with the convictions, courage and faith that founded the nation and continue to fan the flame of freedom in our hearts, homes and communities.
To frame our conversation tonight, I turn to the great American statesman Daniel Webster, whose commitment to American principles was known across the country and around the world and whose oratory elevated rigorous debate and whose voice still echoes in this chamber as well as in the well of the United States Senate.
In Stephen Vincent Benet’s classic tale regarding Daniel Webster, he whimsically describes what you are likely to hear and a question you will be asked if you visit the grave of Daniel Webster. Benet wrote, "Every time there's a thunder storm around Marshfield, they say you can hear his rolling voice in the hollows of the sky. And they say that if you go to his grave and speak loud and clear, … the ground'll begin to shiver and the trees begin to shake. And after a while you'll hear a deep voice saying, ‘Neighbor, how stands the Union?’ Then you better answer the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper sheathed, one and indivisible,’ or he's liable to rear right out of the ground."
My question to all who can hear my voice tonight is, “How do we ensure that the state of our union is rock-bottomed, copper sheathed, one and indivisible?”
The foundation must remain rock-bottomed and bedrock-based in American confidence, not narcissistic arrogance. We are not a nation destined to decline nor one that will slink off and cower in our little corner of the world. A biblical verse offers sound advice for each of us as we lean into the stiff wind of the prevailing economic, social and political challenges of today. It simply says, “Cast not away therefore your confidence.”
Every American should live with confidence. Pundits of doom and gloom and political prognosticators would have us believe that all is lost, that the system is rigged, that American leadership in the world is irrelevant, that people are powerless, that the country is hopelessly divided and that the solution to any problem must emanate from Washington, D.C. Listening to the incessant barrage of negativity could leave even the most optimistic among us to wonder if it is worth getting out of bed in the morning.
There are far too many citizens in this country who have lost confidence in themselves, lost confidence in the inherent goodness of the people and communities around them, have lost confidence in our free market system and have lost confidence in the power of the American dream. We cannot, and must not, cast away our confidence.
The vast majority of Americans don’t have confidence that Congress and government will do the right thing. To restore confidence in government I am calling on both houses of Congress and members across the political spectrum to live up to the principles they profess to believe. Coalitions are ready to be formed, compromise has a seat at the table — it only takes a little courage to show up. Your duties are simple as outlined in the Constitution. It is time to end politics as usual in America.
The copper sheath to which Webster referred serves as a protector to the foundation. Congress must pass a budget and the corresponding appropriations bills as the Constitution requires — on time, under budget. This must be done every. single. year. It is time to end the threat of government shutdowns as a blunt-force instrument of uncertainty for political purposes. The uncertainty for the American people, economic markets, businesses and our allies around the world is no longer acceptable. It never should have been.
To ensure this happens and that confidence is restored in Congress, I am calling on the vice president to take his place as the presiding officer in the Senate. The Constitution declares that the vice president isn’t merely responsible for breaking tie votes in the Senate, the vice president is to be the president of the Senate. I am calling on the vice president to open up the floor of the Senate for continuous debate, the introduction of amendments from all senators, and votes — regular, meaningful votes — in front of the American people. What was once hailed as the world’s greatest deliberative body must reclaim that title. The Senate must do this by demonstrating its commitment to action — driven by decency, respect and civility — on behalf of the citizens each senator represents.
Finally, we must remain as a people, one and indivisible. Sadly, our lack of confidence, in government and elected leaders, is beginning to fray the fabric of society to the point we no longer trust members of our own communities. Those in the pursuit of political power or media prominence or campaign cash would have us believe that we are inextricably divided, and thus no one should trust anyone. This is the greatest lie and deepest deception of our day. Do we have differences? Of course. But there isn’t an issue before us upon which the American people and the elected officials who represent them cannot come together and solve.25 comments on this story
We must reject the fake fights and false choices breathlessly served up to us on the internet by some in the media or by members of Congress. I call on the people of this nation to turn away from the purveyors of such information and the political purity tests they perpetuate. Political purity at both ends of the spectrum is great for those in power, but it prevents America’s inherent problem-solving spirit, unity, compromise and coalitions from forming or flourishing. I believe the answers to poverty, health care, immigration, upward mobility, criminal justice, border security, mental health, Second Amendment rights, religious liberty, minority rights, education and a host of other issues foreign and domestic are well within the grasp of the united people of this nation.
As I close this State of the Union, I ask for a moment of silence that perhaps we might hear the echo of the voice of Daniel Webster as he asks each of us as Americans, “Neighbor, how stands the Union?” My hope is that tonight, and every night, we will resolutely whisper in response that “The Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper sheathed, one and indivisible!”