President Barack Obama's State of the Union Message reveals a broad difference between his cool, dispassionate, conciliatory political operating style as contrasted with that of the more passionate Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Robert F. Kennedy.
Obama's address to the nation was a cooler, less passionate version of FDR's call to greatness to his fellow American citizens in his first inaugural address in which he stated, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
In the midst of the most gripping economic crisis since the Great Depression that greeted Roosevelt when he assumed office in March 1933, Obama spent much of his time extolling America as a great nation and Americans as doers determined to carry forward that legacy. He sought to rise above partisan politics in summoning Americans to greatness.
A grand fallacy behind Obama's approach was soon revealed when Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin delivered the Republican Party's response. The conciliatory style of Obama was sharply contrasted with more boiler plate neoconservative jargon reflective of the statement by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after the 2010 midterm elections when he candidly explained that the party's goal was to make Obama a "one term president."
Ryan reflected the traditional Republican amnesia about the huge spending spree of George W. Bush and the $10 trillion debt that existed when he left office. There was no recognition that under Ronald Reagan, the hero of the Republican right, the U.S. debt tripled under his stewardship, with his administration's reliance on tax cuts for the rich to provide prosperity and federal government operating capital, a practice Bush emulated.
Another point of attack against Obama from Ryan came when he emphasized his party's opposition to the health care bill that Obama helped shepherd through the Congress and into law. His assertion that the bill will help plunge the nation into greater debt is refuted by the Congressional Budget Office. That study concluded that repealing the bill would increase the federal debt.
No alert observer of the current political scene should have been surprised by Obama's speech or by Ryan's response. Obama has sought to be the great conciliator while Ryan delivered a boiler plate neocon treatise as a spokesperson for plutocracy and upholding McConnell's first rule of seeking to insure a single term for the presidential occupant.
The single rule of thumb separating Obama as a bootstrap arrival in the presidency from humble roots, someone who worked hard and displayed ambition, and two great Democratic Party progressives from wealthy backgrounds, FDR and RFK, is easily discernible.
Both Roosevelt and Kennedy knew the difference between situations where compromise was achievable as contrasted with intractable opposition on destroy missions. Roosevelt and Kennedy knew that in the wake of successful efforts to block efforts to achieve present gains that a long term strategy could be evoked to take their cases to the people.
Roosevelt fought tenaciously against the American Liberty League, which sought to destroy his New Deal aspirations amid insidious propaganda designed to poison the public mind with beliefs that he was a dangerous traitor to his economic class who sought to destroy American free enterprise.
RFK, along with his brothers Jack and Ted, saw the same charges unleashed. Another wrinkle was added that he was impervious to Communist domination owing to his opposition to the Vietnam War.
FDR and RFK, individuals of wealthy backgrounds, were shocked when they observed the impact of poverty on society. Roosevelt was molded by the Great Depression and Kennedy by the tragic plight of exploited farm workers.
They recognized that certain battles must be fought and that compromise was often a zero option. Obama needs to recognize that same distinction and be governed by the leadership examples exemplified by FDR and JFK.