Ask questions and comment live tonight as you watch the President's State of the Union address.
What would you advise the president to say?
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Tonight at the beginning of his State of the Union Address President Barack Obama will tell us, “The state of our union is strong.”
He should thank people like Jack LaLanne.
Though Jack LaLanne died this past weekend at age 96, it is life stories like his that make our union strong.
Jack LaLanne has been called “the godfather of fitness.” More than any other person he promoted exercise and nutrition in American life. A self-confessed junk food addict Jack LaLanne opened his first public gym in 1936. It was an American first. His television show, “The Jack LaLanne Show,” ran for over thirty-five years. As we watched we swung our arms to the voice of LaLanne counting “one, two, three, four…” He changed us.
To promote his cause Jack LaLanne became known for doing stunts that demonstrated his physical prowess. He once did 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes. He swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco handcuffed and shackled with a thousand pound boat tied to his belt. At the age of 70 he swam one mile with 70 boats attached to his belt.
Yet more importantly, Jack LaLanne showed us how one person can inspire whole generations. Not through words but through actions. As a truly American story Jack LaLanne lived an exemplary life of meaning and purpose. He is just what we all need.
President Obama’s words tonight will not stimulate new jobs. Nor will more political promises. Individuals like Jack LaLanne caused whole industries to form. LaLanne dreamt of a healthier world so he acted. He helped to create health clubs, nutrition consultants and home fitness equipment.
Obama tonight needs to point to the backbone of America’s strength, its people. When “we the people” act, good things happen. Tonight we need to know Jack.
Rather than sitting down and just listening tonight, grab your chair and try a few deep knee bends. Until we all start acting like Americans we should not feel entitled to feeling like Americans.
“Everybody now, one, two, three, four.”
Blog live tonight at citizenu.org
Monday, January 17, 2011
Do you remember your first political memory?
For me it might have been the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. On that day, April 4th, 1968, I was in 1st grade. Though only 5 years old, I can remember talking in class about King and what he represented. I can remember the terrible race riots that followed. I started watching the news . . . and I haven't stopped since.
It has been said "that life is understood looking backward, but it must be lived forwards." Dr. King taught my generation to do things differently. Most important he taught us all to look forward to a better day.
What early political memories do you have?
Friday, January 14, 2011
Disraeli, noted English author and British Prime Minister, wrote: “With words we govern men.”
Due to the recent tragedy in Tucson, we as a nation have had to assess our political speak. Some have blamed the tone of our rhetoric for the disturbing events while others have vehemently defended all manners of speech.
In today’s raw political culture a dose of Orwellian cynicism would seem to apply. He wrote, “Language… corrupts thought.”
But he was not entirely correct.
George Orwell and Ludwig Wittgenstein were two grand thinkers of the 20th century who wrote extensively on language and its uses in the political arena. In our media soaked era it is difficult to imagine that words still matter but clearly they still do.
Orwell, always the critic, stated that political language “has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” In this he was right. Today we would call that spin. Running scared from the voters, our elected officials feel the need to hide from detail and resort to more base name-calling.
Wittgenstein wrote too about the “language games” that we play. He was often heard to say, “What is the meaning of the word?” This call for clarity and precision may be the lesson for us this week. It also would allow us to hold each other accountable for the things that we say.
It is for this reason that our presidents are to set an example. This is why Teddy Roosevelt when he was president talked about his “bully pulpit.” Few today understand, however, that in those days the word “bully” meant “excellent,” “superb,” and “wonderful.” Roosevelt understood that the status of president gave the office a unique position to persuade and therefore the ability to accomplish great things. Regardless of personality, the American public looks to the president for leadership, guidance and direction. We, more often than not, follow. Today the connotation of “bully” is to be a “ruffian” or “intimidator.” All to often it is that definition we follow.
It is for that reason we applaud President Obama’s words in Tucson this week. He set out not only to console but also to heal. He used his “bully pulpit” to inspire a new dialogue. He asked us all to aspire to the expectations of our children. These are words that we can all understand.
Similar words were uttered by a president 70 years ago this month. President Franklin Roosevelt gave his memorable “Four Freedoms” speech back in January of 1941. As Europe faced armed conflict against the bitter face of fascism, Roosevelt chose to tell the world what principles America would stand up and defend.
He spoke of four freedoms that all peoples desire. They are the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear.
Such words still govern best.
Language might corrupt but the right words can also redeem.