The BLOG: Politics

The truth shall set us all free, Mr. President

I watched last night’s State of the Union address as I do each year; with a cautious optimism. I always wonder what, specifically, the President will choose to address, and, more pessimistically, I wonder if he will tell the truth. Last night’s speech was marred by convenient truths at best and doublespeak at worst.

The President spoke of the need for unity while simultaneously sowing more seeds of division. Throughout the speech, he referred to those who do not agree with his talking points as “cynics,” and “those who [tell] us to fear the future,” but later in his speech conceded that “Democracy … doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic.” Can we have it both ways? Can those who disagree with us be labeled as cynical fear-mongers, yet their views be respected?

President Obama touted the successes of the Affordable Care Act — nearly 18 million people have gained coverage, health care inflation has slowed, jobs have been created — but neglected to mention that the Affordable Care Act has caused many to lose access to their doctor and has created economic difficulties for countless small businesses. The Affordable Care Act also has provisions that directly violate the consciences of many Americans. A few of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order that serves the poor and the elderly, were in the audience last night as guests of Speaker Paul Ryan. The Little Sisters are currently in the throes of a federal lawsuit that threatens their work with the poor and the elderly. Shouldn’t their voices be heard?

President Obama claims that this progress we have seen has been the result of “working together,” and while we have made progress working together, not every decision has been made in this way. One of the most monumental changes in American society in 2015 was the legalization of same-sex marriage in all states. But that decision was not made “together,” it was made by the Supreme Court Justices, and it directly overturned the will of citizens of multiple states. Now, good, loving people whose faith teaches that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman are seen as bigots, rather than as a group with a valid, but different, belief than that of the federal government in 2015.

Similarly, there was bipartisan support to cut federal funding from Planned Parenthood after the Center for Medical Progress released disturbing videos over the summer. President Obama vetoed the bill, even though it had gained bipartisan support. Yet, near the end of his speech, the President urged that we must, “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.” Wouldn’t this seem to discourage federal funding for abortion?

I point out these misrepresentations of truth not to wag my finger at the President or to complain about his work over the last seven years. Rather, I write this to appeal to the one virtue that indeed can bring our country together — truth. It is something that must be nurtured across both sides of the aisle; all of us, no matter the political affiliation, need to be involved. As Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina pointed out in her speech last night, Republicans, too, must accept that they “have played a role in how and why our government is broken.” President Obama is right — we do need to come together to adapt to life in these uncertain times.

Speeches are powerful — they can inspire, transform, change hearts. But such change can only be for the common good if the rhetoric is based in truth, even if that truth is something we would rather not hear. Lincoln indeed said, “the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present,” but he also said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

Believe in the people, Mr. President. Tell the truth.

Jennifer Manning

Jennifer Manning

Jennifer Manning currently teaches Religious Studies at a private high school in the Boston area. She earned Masters degrees in Theology from Boston College and Yale, and she writes about religion,  morality, and popular culture. You can find her on Twitter @jmfmanning.

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