Friday, February 03, 2006

"Written In Courage": An Analysis of the 2006 State of the Union Address

The take from Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.:
In general, this State of the Union Address was clear, forceful, and well thought out. The President recognizes that decisions must be made and that it is his constitutional duty to make them. "In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country." Clearly, the choices can be bad; otherwise there is not much sense in worrying about them. But one of the fundamental strengths of our constitution is that it recognizes, particularly in dangerous times, the fundamental need of a personal decision-making authority that can act. It is striking that the President would use this very classically sounding word "action" in this context–"the destination of history is determined by human action." This affirmation does not necessarily mean that there is no divine action also in history, including in our history. But divine action, as Benedict XVI said in his recent encyclical, is often itself a prod and a stimulus to human thought and action.

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The President is quite realistic in the need to keep track of potential terrorists already within our frontiers. We simply have to know about them. They ought not to be free to use our freedoms to destroy us. Furthermore, "if we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores." It does not take a genius to see that this is undoubtedly what would happen. The President thus is a realist who will not be deflected from what is the most serious issue facing us. He is not somehow a stubborn man acting on his own inner needs. He is clear-sighted, observing what is there. He saw what did happen. He knows what can happen.

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Probably the most dramatic part of the evening was the presence of Judge Alito, who had just been confirmed that day to the Supreme Court (seemingly against the combined efforts of many Catholic senators worried evidently about protecting abortion, among other unpleasant things). From a pro-life point of view, the President’s most forceful passage was this: "Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments; creating human-animal hybrids; and buying, selling or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale." This is not a passage out of a papal encyclical (though it could be), or out of the playbook of said senators, but one uttered by the President of the United States. More is to be done, no doubt, but this passage is forceful.

Often on the basis of proposals in the bio-ethics field, many writers worry about radical changes in human genes, bodily form, life span, eliminating sexual reproduction, and other areas that suggest the whole culture is in decline. Culture wars, they are called. It is the function of a President to speak of what we ought to be, not naively, but still with the awareness that many of the problems that we encounter are self-chosen. We can turn off from wrong paths. "America is a great force for freedom and prosperity. Yet our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another. So we strive to be compassionate, decent, hopeful society." This is the sentence the New York Times–which had chosen oil for its front-page summary of the address–cited on the 20th page with the text. But it is a powerful sentence, one that again mirrors the notion that a nation is not just about laws and justice and productivity, but of compassion, decency, hope. As the Pope also said in his encyclical, it does matter how we individually, personally, treat one another.

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The only time that the word "God" appears in this address, in this land where we often sing "God bless America," is the last sentence, "May God bless America." We probably have to realize that God will bless not whatever we do, but what actions and choices are for the good that He has given us in creation, in the good in others–including the good, the real good, of those who have declared themselves our enemies.

You can read more of Fr Schall on his website.

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