This is our generation's Sputnik moment

The state of the union is tenuous, and America has come to the brink. What we do in the next few years will have years of repercussions on the future of this country. Our policies, our goals, our politics and our focus must all be geared toward revitalizing a flagging and stagnant nation. Tuesday's State of the Union address reflected this need and, in a more concrete way than many such speeches lately, addressed the massive problems and equally massive potential America bears right now.

President Barack Obama began the address with a call to action, stressing – and rightly so – that the greatest strength of the American people is our ingenuity and our ability to bring unheard-of innovation to any number of fields. Obama drew heavily on history, invoking the development of the automobile, the construction of the transcontinental railroad and the development of the Internet to stress the need to focus our energies on further American innovation.

Aptly, the president specifically stressed our need to become leaders in modern industries: biomedicine, information technologies and green energy. It seems Obama's focus in the coming months will be on stimulating job growth in these sectors by promoting education, focused deregulation of industry and other employer-friendly initiatives. The president set lofty goals: by 2015, one million electric cars will be on the road. By 2035, 80 percent of electricity will be produced through sustainable means. These goals were presented not as an edict but as a challenge. Challenges are the name of the game.

Obama's rhetorical skills were in full force as he laid out his plan for the ideal future of the United States. Most remarkable was his ability to simultaneously appear strong and unwavering in the progressive ideals laid out while also extending the olive branch to Republicans, calling for bipartisan efforts and the reform of moribund or encumbered laws, regardless of their origin.

The most striking message of the evening, however, was only implied by the context of the goals and pronouncements made throughout: The time has come for Americans to accept that sacrifice will be our lot, for the near future at least.

It's refreshing to hear a president admit that the status quo is not possible and that, in order to solve the problems currently facing the nation, we will all have to give up small comforts. A discretionary spending freeze was announced along with massive cuts to defense spending, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security reform and tax law reform. Sticking to his guns, Obama called on the top earners of the country to assent to heavy taxation, emphasizing that this would not be "a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting America's success."

And that, frankly, is the salient point: it's time for us to wake up and accept the fact that the needs of the United States, at least for right now, have to come before our own. It's no longer time to look out for No. 1, and if we ever want to see that time again, we'll need to look out for each other. Many of Obama's remarks, naked and frank as they were, will certainly be used against him in the coming months and during his probable bid for reelection, but it was necessary and refreshing to hear the plain truth as the president sees it.

The spirit of the traditional closing of the address still stands: the state of the union can be strong again. 

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