A Curious Bystander

Megan Chrisler, Staff Writer

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address has given much fodder for both news and opinion articles. I could, for instance, talk about the issues of raising minimum wage (and without the consent of Congress, at that). I could write about how much Obama spoke about investing and spending, something a country with a trillion dollar deficit cannot do easily. Or I could even sing the praises of his education and feminist policies. Instead, I want to focus on one line, buried deep in his speech, that has gone ignored.

“Citizenship demands a sense of common cause; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities.”

This is, on the surface, just another wonderfully written line meant to bolster the hope of the people and their belief in the current system. However, under all this, there is a serious issue. Marcus J. Borg, a progressive theologian and Jesus scholar, uses the term “compassionate politics” to define a system that is community-oriented and depends on the compassion of the people. Obama is basically saying the same thing, but throws in the phrase “the hard work of self-government.” This individualism is in stark contrast to his previous and succeeding phrases centered on community. Could a form of “compassionate politics” happen in a culture obsessed with individuality? Or, like Obama’s line, does it clash?

Borg actually specifies universal health care as an obvious result of such a social system, along with gay marriage. I would bet that increases in minimum wage, restricting guns and liberal immigration reform would be included. However, the spiritual world—whether Christian or not—can and must be separated from the legal world. To do otherwise risks biases in the judgment of law and ethics. Plus, a system of compassionate politics would not solve the unfairness in the world because unfairness is simply a rule of life. Applying it specifically to America, the obsession with the individual heavily outweighs the needs and wants of the nation. A cultural shift of focus towards the community could happen, but is highly unlikely—especially among the Millenials, who have been said to be the most depressed, anxious and isolated of all American generations.

Furthermore, rules for such a system, like high minimum wages, may end up being impossible to finance anyway. So, although “compassionate politics” sounds very pretty, it may very well not be an answer. Too bad for Obama’s incredibly optimistic vision of America, but hey, we’re still going to get cheap health care, right?