It is an important question to raise, and it’s a good thing you’re doing so: Whether we should blame rhetoric, in the abstract, or rather try to have a genuine debate about creation of a social/political culture created through discourse, in which people need to take responsibility for their words. The r-word can be tricky.
I applaud your analysis of the SOTU, especially about the Sputnik theme. I blogged on this yesterday, and no one in the MSM seemed to catch the Eisenhower strain to Obama’s speech — or his missed rhetorical opportunity to capitalize on it. Precisely as you said: “Once you say ‘This is our Sputnik moment,’ where are we going?”
If you frame the speech that way, where is the rest of the argument?
Obama says “Sputnik Moment,” and offers…lower mileage on our SUVs? Honestly, this is a page right out of The Onion’s Century book, in which on one of the pages from the 1980 presidential race a caricatured Jimmy Carter meets Ronald Reagan’s patriotic enthusiasm with…”Let’s Talk Better Mileage.”
The speech didn’t follow through on the Sputnik Moment opportunity, and I’m with you on that critique. And similarly, how someone writing on a whiteboard in the White House Communications Office thought “Winning the Future” was a great tagline. As a speechwriter, I had only one thought: I didn’t know we were going to lose the future. And if you’re going to face up to Boehner and McConnell in Congress, and the tea party, this seems a strange, not to mention politically weak, way to frame the argument.