I am convinced that this kind of nation-building at home is exactly what Mr. Obama is trying to deliver, and should be his unifying call: We need universal health care because it would strengthen our social fabric and enable our businesses to better compete globally. We need to upgrade our schools because no child in 21st-century America should be left behind and because we cannot compete for the best new jobs without doing so. We need a greener economy, not just to mitigate climate change, but because a world growing from 6.7 billion people to 9.2 billion by 2050 is going to demand more and more clean energy and water, and the country that develops the most clean technologies is going to have the most energy security, national security, economic security, innovative companies and global respect.

But to deliver this agenda requires a motivated public and a spirit of shared sacrifice. That’s where narrative becomes vital. People have to have a gut feel for why this nation-building project, with all its varied strands, is so important — why it’s worth the sacrifice. One of the reasons that independents and conservatives who voted for Mr. Obama have been so easily swayed against him by Fox News and people labeling him a “socialist” is because he has not given voice to the truly patriotic nation-building endeavor in which he is engaged.