Commentary: Soldier’s thumbs up conveys president’s message of hope


By John Krull

John Krull, publisher,

John Krull, publisher,

INDIANAPOLIS – Two moments dominated President Barack Obama’s fifth State of the Union Address.

Commentary button in JPG - no shadowThe most powerful of them came at the crescendo, when the president told the story of U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, who had been severely wounded and nearly killed on his 10thdeployment in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb.

Obama described how Remsburg had been in a coma for months, that the bomb cost him the sight in one of his eyes and, for a time, the power of speech. The president said that Remsburg had to endure dozens of surgeries and hours each day of grueling rehabilitation.

As Remsburg sat in the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives beside the First Lady, the president presented the soldier as a symbol of American resilience and resolve. Obama said that the hard work had paid off – that Remsburg once again could speak. More important, he could stand.

The symbolic message was clear: America, like the soldier in the gallery, might find itself hit hard and knocked down, but the country, like its wounded warrior, finds a way to stand back up because it has to.

As Obama spoke of the soldier’s struggle, Remsburg stood up to acknowledge the crowd’s prolonged applause.

The people in the room clapped, cheered and wept for a soldier, for a spirit, for a country.

When Remsburg gave a thumbs-up sign to thank the crowd for the ovation, he drove home the speech’s point – that America cannot dwell on past hurts but always must find ways to move forward – in a way that no words, however skillfully crafted or delivered, ever could.

The soldier who battled back from death and despair made a better case for hope and change than the president who had used it as a campaign slogan possibly could have.

The other powerful moment came earlier in the speech when President Obama spoke of health care reform.

Again, Obama told a story of a person in the gallery: physician’s assistant and single mother Amanda Shelley, who had been denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition. She signed up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act on Jan. 1, the president said, and felt a sharp pain on Jan. 3. On Jan. 6, she had emergency surgery.

If Shelley had been forced to have the surgery a week earlier, Obama noted, it would have bankrupted her.

Then, setting up his hardest punch of the night, Obama ticked off the numbers – 3 million Americans under the age of 26 who now have health insurance under the law and 9 million who hadn’t had it before and now were signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid under the law’s provisions.

And then Obama struck. He said that he didn’t expect to convince Republicans of the merits of the law, but he wanted to challenge them. If they had a better plan than his, it was time to bring it forward.

And, if they didn’t have a better plan, the president said, it was time to quit looking backward and taking one doomed vote after another to try to repeal Obamacare.

As Democrats leapt to their feet in a prolonged ovation, Republicans in the chamber sat silent and looked down at their feet, as if checking to make sure that their shoelaces still were tied.

Obama used the other parts of his 66-minute speech to paint a picture of a recovering economy, call for immigration reform, pledge support for new education initiatives, note the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and assert that he would use executive action where he could to help Americans when Congress would not or could not act.

All these points were well-argued and smoothly delivered.

But the power of this State of the Union was in the way it symbolized recovery.

Like the soldier in the gallery, both the president at the podium and the country he leads had been knocked down and had struggled to find their footing.

With one simple thumbs-up gesture, the wounded soldier in the gallery showed the country he served and the president he saluted that being knocked doesn’t mean one has to stay down.

And that just standing tall can be a glorious thing.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.


  1. This is drivel.

    That soldier should not have been sent on 10 deployments to occupy that country. I don’t see this as a powerful moment, I see it as a politician slinking behind another man’s bravery to mask his own shortcomings. Hope? Spare us.

    • Agreed. A soldier saluting the President and Mr. Krull taking as he has shows Mr. Krull is bat-shit clueless what the soldier was actually doing. In the military, myself retired Air Force you are taught you salute the position, not the person. There is a wealth of wisdom in that.

  2. this is a disgrace…….krull trying to elevate the pathological lying commie obama by trying to link him to a brave American hero…liberalism is a mental disorder……..

  3. Mr. Krull you are entitled to your opinion but you are so full of crap I don’t even know where to start.

  4. ….the article is over the top of course. I think he knows that and is smiling while he finishes his beer thinking about you guys making these comments.

  5. Obama trumped by Puppy Bowl. He should’ve known better than to compete with better looking dogs.

  6. This guy is a delusional lap dog. He has no clue what the soldiers really think of our supposed dictator in chief.

  7. I am so sick of the scripted way of these State of The Union addresses. I first became aware of the Hollywood factor during the Clinton administration: packing the gallery with people he thought he could use for political capital and seating them next to his wife or or some other high profile member of the administration.

    Lets put the focus back where it belongs, on the true state of the union and the plans put forward for improvement.


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