There was a new superstar in the U.S. Capitol Tuesday night at the State of the Union. The story of Desiline Victor of South Miami changed the tone of the gathering for a few moments as President Obama focused on her.
On Election Day, she was told her wait might be six hours. She waited, and hour after hour "a throng of people stayed in line in support of her because Desiline is 102 years old." Her "I Voted" sticker elicited cheers.
And cheers erupted again Tuesday night simply because Desiline Victor exercised the birthright of every American citizen -- her right to vote.
Whether a profile in courage or dignity, her sweetness and resolution won everyone's heart. Joe Biden looked as if his own grandmother was being honored. John Boehner, who had sat throughout the rest of the address glum, dispirited, almost morose, craned to see her. Then, as if lit inside, a genuine smile transformed his face.
After watching the scene, Nora O'Donnell of "CBS This Morning," turned to Charlie Rose and said, "Persistence."
Rose replied, "American."
Persistence. A persistently American trait.
That moment encapsulated this State of the Union, Obama's seventh address to a joint session of Congress. Speaking to the senators and representatives (and even the Supreme Court justices, present or not), Obama said: "We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day. ... We should follow their example."
And that justifies Obama's admittedly ambitious American Agenda.
1. A "Fix It Now" program to repair our aging infrastructure of highways and bridges that Dwight Eisenhower first put in place, and which will put thousands of unemployed to work.
2. Executive action on climate change to prevent, or at least prepare for, the Sandy-like hurricanes, monster blizzards, massive forest fires, etc.
3. Universal preschool, since early childhood education is the best investment not only in a child's life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but in our success as a nation.
4. Immigration reform with a proposed path to earned citizenship that even had Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. John McCain nodding their heads and smiling.
5. A living wage, which means raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour, an amount that keeps up with inflation and keeps workers out of abject poverty.
6. Dealing with gun violence, finally, through a series of measures designed to protect our children, protect our Second Amendment rights and protect the safety of the two-thirds of Americans who don't own guns. The victims, Obama told Congress, from Newtown, Conn., to Aurora, Colo., to Gabby Giffords, deserved a vote.
7. End America's longest war, by bringing home 34,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
8. Reform the tax code, close loopholes and reduce the deficit responsibly, with everyone paying their fair share and a balanced approach of spending cuts and revenue increases.
9. Initiatives to create jobs, particularly in manufacturing.
Were Republicans listening? Apparently not, judging by the headline in the Republican-leaning National Journal: "Nothing Big or Bold About Obama's State of the Union Address."
Obama framed his speech by quoting John F. Kennedy: "The constitution makes us not rivals for power, but partners for progress," and referred throughout to the value of debate, alternative ideas and compromise. Yet Rep. Paul Ryan said on CBS, "Obama treats Republicans as enemies, not as partners."
Speaker John Boehner said the president "lacked guts" to cut spending -- even though Obama has already agreed to a total of $1.7 trillion in cuts, and the Congressional Budget Office reports that Obamacare has reduced the deficit.
Boehner said afterward that the president "appears to have chosen a go-it-alone approach." He did sit behind Obama as the president said, "let's set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget ... and do it without the brinksmanship."
The Republican Party's official spokesman, Sen. Mario Rubio, wasn't listening to the American people, either. The president's gun-violence proposals had the input of hundreds of citizens and have overwhelming support in poll after poll. Do the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old murdered days after performing at Obama's second inaugural, deserve a vote? Do the families of Newtown and Aurora deserve a vote? "No," Rubio said, "I don't think it deserves a vote."
Last week, I talked about how the Republican establishment in Washington was adopting a softer voice. Though quieter, their answer to all Obama proposes is still, "No."
Let's follow the examples of Desiline Victor, and New York City nurse Menchu Sanchez and Wisconsin police officer Brian Murphy. Let us persist.
Republican leaders can act as if an election never happened, as if a consensus had not been reached. But Americans will persist. Voters want an end to "No," and a "Yes" to cooperation.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, and a contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.