Win the Future: The State of the State of the Union

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, thank you. My fellow Americans, I greet you tonight, in a moment of American fellowship. It is important for us to gather as one, Republicans and Democrats alike, to consider the state of our union. It is not only important that I speak here tonight, but that you hear the speech.

I speak to you here as a man who has a speech to deliver. I speak words written to be spoken—words not only to be spoken, but words to be spoken about. Now, as you know, what I say will be discussed after I say it. (Laughter.)

But let there be no confusion. My speech will have a message. The message will be stated simply. The message will be made clear.

This is a way of speaking that is older and bigger than any one president. It is older than any one speechwriter. When you hear it, you are hearing the work of dozens if not hundreds of hard-working people—from both parties, Democrats and Republicans, writing in times of war and times when our country is at peace.

Those writers, whatever their politics, whatever their mission of the moment may have been, have been bound together by a single, American goal. That goal is to write a speech that delivers a message, or something that will be understood to have been a message, for people to talk about.

A message is not the same thing as an idea. Ideas can be misunderstood. They can confuse people. They can send the discussion of the speech, which is meant to be part of the speech, off in some unexpected direction.

I did not come here tonight to surprise you or confuse you. I think we all get enough surprises and confusion the rest of the day. (Laughter, applause.)

The hard-working people who write the speeches know this, just as you know it.

In an office in the White House—not far from my own office—there’s a young man, Jon Favreau. Jon has been writing my speeches for a long time. Jon could write my speeches in his sleep. Maybe he did write this one in his sleep. (Laughter.)

I used to say Jon sounded so much like me, I couldn’t tell us apart. That was part of the answer, but it was only one part of it. Jon sounds like me, and I sound like George Bush, and George Bush sounded like Bill Clinton. (Applause.)

Now, we don’t all talk the same. (Laughter.)

We don’t all talk the same, and we don’t all want the same things. We have our differences. But when the words come out, they come out in the very same rhythm. One of us may say “freedom” more. (Applause.) One of us may say “children” more. (Applause.) But the rhythm is the same. (Applause.)

That rhythm is bigger than me. It is bigger than Bill Clinton or George Bush. It is maybe the exact same size as Jon Favreau.

That doesn’t mean that Jon is naturally bigger than the president. What it does mean is that the president can’t get away with trying to be bigger than Jon is. (Applause.) Not when I am speaking to you, the way I am speaking to you tonight.

Tonight, I say to you, America must win the future. (Applause.) That is what I am talking about, as a message.

There will be a future, and we must win it. (Applause.) We will win the future by competing. (Applause.) That might mean that the future, itself, is the prize we are going to win, in a competition. It might mean that the future is the competition, and if we win that competition, we will win another prize.

Maybe the prize will be a stuffed bear. (Applause.) Or maybe the prize will be another century of global hegemony. (Applause.) The message is the same. If we do what we need to do to compete to win the future, we will win the future. (Applause.)

Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy stood on the steps of this Capitol building and said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” And you know, we’ve never really stopped saying it.

Let me explain that a little bit more. I would never say “ask not,” and you would never expect me to say it. “Ask not” sounds stuffy. Today, we can agree we would just say “don’t ask.”

But the structure that John F. Kennedy used 50 years ago—that is the structure we use today. And we will keep using it. We will say something one way, and then we will say something again, almost the same way. The words repeat. We repeat the words.

This is what I am talking about. President Kennedy said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” This plus that, and then that plus this.

It’s like what they say about finding a man in the great State of Alaska: the odds are good, but the goods are odd. That’s another example of a sentence you can put together that way.

I’m from Hawaii, not Alaska. And I’m not saying I talk like President Kennedy. “Let the word go forth…” President Kennedy said. “Now the trumpet summons us…” he said. Everyone here can agree, Republicans and Democrats—I’m not talking about trumpets tonight.

And of course, we wouldn’t use a semicolon now. We rough up the parallels, so the parallels don’t sound quite as tidy. The barest bit of alliteration, spread sparingly, is all. We don’t want the speech to sound too fine or fancy. Fine and fancy words won’t win the future.

That is what we are here for tonight. We are here to talk about how to win the future. Nobody says it will be easy to win the future. But “win the future” is easy to say.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.