Peggy Noonan has weighed in on the State of the Union Address. She liked it, in part because it was "calibrated" and "less messianic" than the Second Inaugural.
Fortunately, the President spoke the very next morning, which is to say yesterday morning, in tones that are not at all messianic but express the very sort of argument I was calling for here. The setting? Why, the National Prayer Breakfast, of course. (By the way, John Kerry was there, "suppressing numerous yawns," as the Washington Times reporter observed.) Heres the Presidents finest moment:
In these great moral challenges of our times, our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples are providing the vision that is changing lives. Ive seen some of their miracles up close. Last June, I met Veronica Braewell, a 20-year-old refugee from Liberia. As a 13-year-old child, Veronica witnessed armed men killing children in horrific ways. As she fled this madness, Veronica left -- was left for dead atop a pile of bodies, until her grandmother found her. In August 2003, Catholic Social Agency helped resettle her in Pennsylvania, where Veronica is now completing the circle of compassion by working in a home for elderly in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and studying to become a certified nursing assistant.
When Veronica told me of her story, it was through the kind of tears no young woman should ever know. And when she finished, she dried her eyes and said, "Thank you, Mr. President, for my freedom." But I told her, it wasnt me she needed to thank, she needed to thank the good hearts of the United States of America. The America that embraced Veronica would not be possible without the prayer that drives and leads and sustains our armies of compassion.
What leads to these generous attempts to liberate others--not by the force of arms, but by the force of (can I say it without sounding irredeemably sappy?) love--is that "[w]e recognize in one another the spark of the Divine that gives all human beings their inherent dignity and worth, regardless of religion."
You might, of course, respond: what else could or should one say at a prayer breakfast? Any politically-responsible hypocrite could utter such sentiments. Fair enough. But theres a good bit of evidence that this President means what he says here. These words express his mind and inform his political vision. Good speech, Mr. President. Lets see these sentiments--"calibrated," of course--in other settings.