Both saw their addresses as a call to arms for all Americans. Both sought to tie the best traditions of our founding fathers to today’s challenges. Both insisted that what truly drives America is the ingenuity and independence of our people.
But while Reagan advanced the simplistic idea that government and liberty are always at odds, Obama’s speech reflected the realizations of a new century.
Instead of “government is the problem,” the president reminded us that we could all fall victim to sudden misfortune. Instead of pinning blame for every social problem on the size of government, the president recognized both individual responsibility and the role of community in giving each child the opportunity to succeed.
Like Reagan, the president invoked the names of famous places in American history — but instead of battles, he tied Stonewall in with Selma and cemented his declaration that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are civil rights.
Coming off an election during which today’s Reaganites insulted a nation of “takers,” the president declared that Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security “free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
This was not a partisan speech. It was not a campaign rally. But it showed that Obama will not back away from a fight. He is staking a bet that a rising generation has a new vision for the country.
I do not think that following through will be easy, or that the president will do everything right. But he showed Monday that he is standing on the right side of history.
Editor’s note: Van Jones, a CNN contributor, is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy.