But for me, the key element was the President’s description of the different visions of a future United States, based on either the Republican plan or the President’s plan. He described the future Republican vision as "deeply pessimistic". He spoke in defense of the "basic social compact in America". He defended Medicare and Medicaid "as a promise we make to each other in this society" and "the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations".
The President moved "this larger debate about the size and the role of government" onto the table. It is the debate that should precede all conversations about what government should start to do, or stop doing. For me, the key element of the President’s speech is changing the focus from "how do we cut the deficit" to "what are we as a people". Here’s his closing:
This larger debate that we’re having — this larger debate about the size and the role of government — it has been with us since our founding days. And during moments of great challenge and change, like the one that we’re living through now, the debate gets sharper and it gets more vigorous. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. As a country that prizes both our individual freedom and our obligations to one another, this is one of the most important debates that we can have.
But no matter what we argue, no matter where we stand, we’ve always held certain beliefs as Americans. We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can’t just think about ourselves. We have to think about the country that made these liberties possible. We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community. And we have to think about what’s required to preserve the American Dream for future generations.
This sense of responsibility — to each other and to our country — this isn’t a partisan feeling. It isn’t a Democratic or a Republican idea. It’s patriotism.
This is reminiscent of a speech that the President gave at the end of the debate on Health Care reform, in which he voiced similar thoughts about the role of government and our social contract with each other.
If we move this part of the speech to the front of the national conversation, then we can have a genuine discussion about the "how" of changing the deficit.
Do I still believe the President has lost? Yes, because the speech was advertised not as a statement of the American promise to each other, but as a simple deficit reduction speech. And that is where the discussion is left.