President Barack Obama switched gears this week in his Saturday address, from economic crisis to natural disaster crisis, as he praised the volunteerism and collaborative response to the flooding in the Dakotas and Minnesota. The first portion of his address simply outlines the steps the federal government has taken to bring aid to the region. The second half of his speech, however, moves into more familiar oratorical territory: extolling the virtues of the magic American dance between individualism and collectivism, and coming down strongly on the side of reminding Americans of the gifts they owe to their shared national efforts:
For at moments like these, we are reminded of the power of nature to disrupt lives and endanger communities. But we are also reminded of the power of individuals to make a difference....
In the face of an incredible challenge, the people of these communities have rallied in support of one another. And their service isn’t just inspirational – it’s integral to our response.
It’s also a reminder of what we can achieve when Americans come together to serve their communities. All across the nation, there are men, women and young people who have answered that call, and millions of other who would like to. Whether it’s helping to reduce the energy we use, cleaning up a neighborhood park, tutoring in a local school, or volunteering in countless other ways, individual citizens can make a big difference.
Such a tribute to selfless volunteerism will surely be echoed by the administration in the coming week as the Kennedy-Hatch Serve America Act, which would greatly expand Americorps and national service programs moves to the House after its passage in the Senate.
There is also a sub-text of salute to members of the military as well as reminders that our national destiny is tied together, one and all:
In facing sudden crises or more stubborn challenges, the truth is we are all in this together – as neighbors and fellow citizens. That is what brought so many to help in North Dakota and Minnesota and other areas affected by this flooding. That is what draws people to volunteer in so many ways, serving our country here and on distant shores.
Week in and week out, President Obama seems to be using the Saturday address largely as a bully pulpit , with more than a dollop of patriotic inspirationalism as flavoring. A pattern is emerging of using this particularly setting as an aspirational weekly sermon about our bonds as fellow Americans and our higher collective commitment to our country and each other. In other venues, he's light (on Leno), conversational (online citizen questioning) or professorial (press conference); in these weekly addresses, however, he seems to hit his most natural stride, the one he hit with his famed speech at the Democratic convention in 2004 and his speech on race last year. The only difference in tone is usually the abbreviated form. It's an interesting trend to watch.