President Obama gave what I experienced as an inspirational speech before Congress last night. Addressing the problems of persistently high unemployment, he reminded the country how it had pulled together during hard times in the past. The speech was delivered immediately before the National Football League kicked off its season, which seems appropriate. After all, it resembled a coach’s half time exhortation to a team that finds itself on the ropes.
I owe this idea to a reader on Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish, who compared the talk to Al Pacino’s “winning back the locker room” speech in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. One can see parallels and it’s not the first time that comparisons have been made between a coach and a politician. Maybe this was Obama’s version of Knute Rockne’s “win one for the Gipper” speech, immortalized by Ronald Reagan when he played the Notre Dame coach in the 1940 movie. The key moment in Knute Rockne: All American is this one:
And the last thing he [the dying George Gipp] said to me, “Rock,” he said, “sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper.
Reagan became associated with Rockne, and known as “the Gipper,” from that moment on.
Here are some of Obama’s “we must pull together” moments from last night’s speech:
In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own — that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.
Yes, we are rugged individualists. Yes, we are strong and self-reliant. And it has been the drive and initiative of our workers and entrepreneurs that has made this economy the engine and the envy of the world.
But there’s always been another thread running throughout our history — a belief that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation.
No single individual built America on their own. We built it together. We have been, and always will be, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; a nation with responsibilities to ourselves and with responsibilities to one another. And members of Congress, it is time for us to meet our responsibilities…
Now, I know there’s been a lot of skepticism about whether the politics of the moment will allow us to pass this jobs plan — or any jobs plan. Already, we’re seeing the same old press releases and tweets flying back and forth. Already, the media has proclaimed that it’s impossible to bridge our differences. And maybe some of you have decided that those differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box.
But know this: The next election is 14 months away. And the people who sent us here — the people who hired us to work for them — they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months. Some of them are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.
President Kennedy once said, “Our problems are man-made –- therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.”
These are difficult years for our country. But we are Americans. We are tougher than the times we live in, and we are bigger than our politics have been. So let’s meet the moment. Let’s get to work, and let’s show the world once again why the United States of America remains the greatest nation on Earth.
Now here’s the Pacino speech from Any Given Sunday, which you can watch here:
I don’t know what to say, really. Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives. All comes down to today, and either, we heal as a team, or we’re gonna crumble. Inch by inch, play by play. Until we’re finished. We’re in hell right now, gentlemen. Believe me. And, we can stay here, get the shit kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb outta hell… one inch at a time. Now I can’t do it for ya, I’m too old. I look around, I see these young faces and I think, I mean, I’ve made every wrong choice a middle-aged man can make. I, uh, I’ve pissed away all my money, believe it or not. I chased off anyone who’s ever loved me. And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror. You know, when you get old, in life, things get taken from you. I mean, that’s… that’s… that’s a part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losin’ stuff. You find out life’s this game of inches, so is football. Because in either game – life or football – the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the fucking difference between winning and losing! Between living and dying! I’ll tell you this, in any fight it’s the guy whose willing to die whose gonna win that inch. And I know, if I’m gonna have any life anymore it’s because I’m still willing to fight and die for that inch, because that’s what living is, the six inches in front of your face. Now I can’t make you do it. You’ve got to look at the guy next to you, look into his eyes. Now I think ya going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. Your gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it your gonna do the same for him. That’s a team, gentlemen, and either, we heal, now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That’s football guys, that’s all it is. Now, what are you gonna do?
The Pacino character rallies his team to an improbable victory. We’ll see whether the president manages to get America to believe in itself again.
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