In spite of the consensus that the president gave a defensive, lukewarm speech, he offered one very crucial idea. Consider it a planted seed whose growth will depend mostly upon the efforts of voters--a notion reinforced throughout his speech.
Taking the word citizenship, President Obama redefined its scope as a criticism of the extremist wing of the Republican Party. Calling it "a word at the very heart of our [nation's] founding, at the very essence of our democracy", the president went on to expand its meaning. Its significance bounds beyond the relationship an American has with his or her country.
Citizenship means that "this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations." Yes, the statement could benefit from specifics, but it can be wielded in two ways.
First, it is a rebuke of the libertarian idea that privileges individual freedom above all else--even over accountability to community and government. This arrangement may please a few of the anarchy-minded, but it has never represented the United States at its best. (A well-known political leader with a libertarian bent has questioned the morality of desegregated lunch counters if the restaurant owner opposes them.)
Second, it works as a pointed jab at the fanatical "birther" movement--those motley masters of suspicion who cannot countenance the documented reality that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii after it joined the United States as the fiftieth. Redefining citizenship calls attention to the shameful way the "birthers" have squandered their own citizenship for a cause that veils their own deeply held prejudice.
The irony in all this is that it took a man who has been wrongly, incessantly accused of not being a citizen, to reconstitute the meaning of citizenship.
Throughout his speech, President Obama reminded supporters about their participation as voters and activists, making possible the gains achieved by his administration. "You were the reason," he insisted repeatedly, "You did that."
This isn't just some pivot from the "Yes, we can!" chant that seasoned campaign events back in 2008. The refrain, "You did that!" is meant to remind voters how indispensable their input and participation are to the political process.
Though there's lots of hollering and tally making over the big game known as campaign fund raising, how can average income voters ever get a word in edge-wise?
This brings the conversation back to the word citizenship, the idea of citizens acknowledging their obligation to one another, their mutuality. To be very specific, a voter must think of impact his or her vote has on their peers when casting the ballot.
In today's electoral politics, there is no greater urgency than voters working together to bridge the influence gap between wealthy elite interests, who can buy an election, and everyone else.