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First take/SOTU

It was an unusual State of the Union speech President Barack Obama delivered on Tuesday night. It held off until the very end, for example, in saying the state was “strong” (the preferred descriptor by most recent presidents).

But there were much more significant elements. A lot of the attention went, as probably it should, to the last major segment, about American politics but more broadly about how Americans see this project of self-government. One of the most disquieting poll results in a long time was the recent report that many younger people don’t think it’s important to live in a democracy. They should give some thought to what living in another kind of system would be like. And I would say the same to many of their elders who seem so hell-bent on destroying any semblance of a civil society in their orgy of fear and hatred.

Obama offered something else last night, though, in the way he structured his speech. He organized it around four questions:

First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?
Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us — especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?
Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?
And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

These, it seems to me, are an excellent set of questions we should consider, and that we demand our candidates respond to, in this election year. They are as good a short summary of the matters that ought to be on our front burner as any I have seen anywhere. – rs

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