Seeking a discourse as serious as the times

SEEKING A DISCOURSE AS SERIOUS AS THE TIMES…. Late last week, at the White House jobs summit, President Obama made some remarks about the national discourse that went largely overlooked, but which were pretty interesting.

“If we can recapture that sense that we’re in this thing together and that we are willing to work hard, that America is not great because it’s owed to us, but we’ve been great because previous generations have put in the hard work to get us there, then I’m confident that we’re going to get through this tough time and the 21st century is going to be as good for us as the 20th was. […]

“But it’s not going to come easily and it is going to require a level of cooperation and a willingness to work strategically together that we have not seen over the last several years. And frankly, this town and the way the political dialogue is structured right now is not conducive to what we need to do to be globally competitive. And all of you are leaders in your communities — in the business sector and the labor sector, in academia, we even have a few pundits here — it is important to understand what’s at stake and that we can’t keep on playing games.

“I mentioned that I was in Asia on this trip thinking about the economy, when I sat down for a round of interviews. Not one of them asked me about Asia. Not one of them asked me about the economy. I was asked several times about had I read Sarah Palin’s book. (Laughter.) True. But it’s an indication of how our political debate doesn’t match up with what we need to do and where we need to go.”

Now, as it turns out, the president’s memory wasn’t perfect — during his interviews in Asia, Obama was asked plenty of inane questions, but some of the interviews did include a handful of substantive questions about Asia-Pac and the economy.

But in general, the president’s larger concerns about the state of the discourse are extremely compelling. Love him or hate him, Obama deserves at least some credit for trying to change the way we engage in public-affairs debate, injecting a level of honesty and maturity that’s been lacking for quite a while.

But the larger effects, at least so far, have been minimal, and “our political debate doesn’t match up with what we need to do and where we need to go.”