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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Book of Matthew: Those who watched

Published: January 29, 2010
Section: Opinions

President Obama gave his State of the Union address Wednesday night. If you didn’t know that, you might as well stop reading and go back to the rock under which you’ve been living. I hope it didn’t lose too much value in the housing collapse. Not that you would know about that either.

Much has been made of the specific policy proposals and overall message of the address. Much more will continue to be made as the professional pundits get down to the business of dissecting the president’s every word. I won’t try to add much in that regard. I’m an unprofessional pundit—unlike the guys on television, I don’t get paid for this crap and in no way do I believe I should.

I admit, as I sat on my threadbare Ziv couch in front of our giant television, I couldn’t help but think about all the other people who were watching. And I don’t mean my suitemates (although they were quite entertained by Vice-President Biden’s facial expressions and Senator McCain’s struggles to stay awake past what was clearly his bedtime). I was thinking about people who weren’t in the room, who weren’t anywhere near me at the time.

Obama mentioned some of these people in his speech:

There were the business owners in Phoenix who were able to triple their staff thanks to stimulus-fueled demand.

There was the Philadelphia manufacturer who was able to add two extra shifts to his roster.

There was the single mother of two who did not lose her teaching job at the local school.

They watched.

And then there were the people Obama did not mention:

There was the Detroit autoworker who had nowhere to turn after being laid off from his old factory job.

There was the uninsured cancer patient who could not afford his treatment.

There was the family that found itself forced to move out of its home because of its failure to pay the mortgage on time.

They watched.

But unlike the professional pundits, whose comfortable salaries allow them the luxury of waxing poetic about the speech’s deeper political implications, these people watched because their well-being is on the line.

By now, they know better than to trust Congress, which spends its time in a perpetual, filibuster-induced deadlock. They see little help coming from the Supreme Court, which is more concerned with originalist readings of the Constitution than the needs of the people.

The only hope they have left lies with the man they saw on the television screen—the once obscure young politician from Illinois whose eloquent speeches charmed millions into supporting his unlikely candidacy. The man who once told them that in America there is nothing false about hope.

They did not watch him to see his response to Scott Brown’s election, or to see his plan for more bipartisanship in government, or even to hear his eloquent turns of phrases. They watched because they, their friends and their families needed to know that things would get better. They needed to know that this fresh, mostly untested politician, who they entrusted with the most powerful position in the world, had a plan to save this country from its numerous problems. And they needed to know that it would work.

I wonder what they thought when the speech was over. Because in the end, the only thing that matters is how the government’s decisions affect them. Ordinary people, not pundits or politicians, are the building blocks of this country and the only thing that can hold it up in the most difficult times.

So, as I sat in my suite’s common room listening to the president give another one of his eloquent speeches, I hoped for one thing: That his famous eloquence would translate into actual results for the Americans who need them. Nothing else matters.