It’s time to Break It Down!
Last year, the day after the State of the Union, I posted a blog entitled State of the Union: Designated Survivor – (https://thesphinxofcharlotte.com/2015/01/21/state-of-the-union-designated-survivor/). The story highlighted a practice that grew out of the Cold War, in which the Administration leaves one official back at the White House, in the event that some catastrophe takes out the President, his Administration, much of Congress, and several members of the Supreme Court. Just for the record, this year’s Designated Survivor is Jeh Johnson, Department of Homeland Security Secretary. For more specifics on the practice, click the link above to review the post.
Now, moving to SOTU 2016, at 9:05 p.m. last night, Paul D. Irving, Sergeant at Arms of the United States House of Representatives, announced President Obama’s arrival to those assembled in the House Chamber for the President’s 8th and final State of the Union (SOTU) Address. House Speaker Paul Ryan then formally introduced him to those in the Chamber. Against that backdrop, replete with pomp, circumstance, and a packed Chamber, the 44th President of the United States went to work. For the next 60 minutes or so, as much as any President in these hyper-partisan times could, the President owned the room.
By the accounts of even a number of Republicans, he gave a great speech. Most Democrats on record appeared to characterize it as his best. I’ve seen all eight, and while I am loathe to attempt to cite chapter and verse from past addresses, I agree, he rose to the occasion in an outstanding, if cerebral, and occasionally spirited way.
Mr. Obama framed his focus not on just next year, but on the next five years, or 10 years. As he ultimately put, his remarks focused on our future. In that regard, he promised not to immerse himself in traditional listing of proposals, but on thematic directions to achieve the very best outcomes for Americans.
In talking about our collective future, the President posed four overarching questions. They were:
First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?
Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?
Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?
Finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?
President Obama replied serially to the questions, but before he began addressing the issue of fully integrating American participation in a fully functioning economy, he offered his own fact check on the matter. He noted that the US has the world’s strongest and most durable economy. We are in the midst of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history, totaling more than 14 million new jobs. Most recently, we have experienced the strongest two years of job growth since the 90’s; an unemployment rate cut in half, an auto industry that just had its best year ever, and the creation of over 900,000 new manufacturing jobs over the past six years. With relish, he injected that we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by nearly three-quarters.
In a direct jab at consistently harsh GOP rhetoric, the President noted that those who assert that our economy is in decline are peddling fiction. Mr. Obama, in further distilling the state of the economy, clarified that the economy has been changing in profound ways. This shift began long before the Great Recession hit, and it persists. By this he meant technology can and often does replace any job, not just those on the assembly line. Moreover, companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and face tougher competition. Thusly, workers have less leverage to negotiate a raise, companies have less loyalty to communities, and fewer individuals in the upper echelon secure and control an inordinately greater share of wealth and income.
The President posited that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job. He lauded No Child Left Behind, and zeroed in on the need to provide Pre-K for all in the future. Hands-on computer science and math classes will aid making students job-ready on day one, while we must also recruit and support great teachers. In making an observation that caused several of those assembled to blush, the President spoke in support of providing necessary benefits and protections, adding, “After all, it’s not much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package, for 30 years, are sitting in this chamber. For everyone else, especially folks in their forties and fifties, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.”
We know that in this new changing economy, at some point in our careers, we may have to retool. But that should not mean losing what we’ve worked hard to build. To that end Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them. And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today. That’s what the Affordable Care Act is all about. It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when we lose a job, or go back to school, or start that new business, we’ll still have coverage. Nearly eighteen million have gained coverage so far. Health care inflation has slowed. And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.
The President pledged his belief in a thriving private sector, noting it’s the lifeblood of our economy. While conceding there are outdated regulations that need to be changed, and red tape that needs to be cut, he also observed that working families have not been the beneficiaries of years of record corporate profits. Those families do not get bigger paychecks by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everyone else’s’ expense; or by allowing attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.
The President argued that “Food Stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did. Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.”
The second question was, “How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?”
Mr. Obama referenced the Vice President, saying, “Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer. Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources they’ve had in over a decade. Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done. And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past forty years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control. For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”
He mentioned the science resistant strain of Americans that still dispute climate change, citing their apparent loneliness. He advised that folks on that island are “debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.” He would end that element of the conversation by challenging American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future.
This brings us to question 3, “How do we keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem?”
He began with a robust repudiation of the baseline notion of “our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker,” a notion he characterized as “political hot air,” just as he did the idea of our economic decline. He went on to frame it thusly:
“The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin. Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead – they call us.
As someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time. But that’s not because of diminished American strength or some looming superpower. In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia. Economic headwinds blow from a Chinese economy in transition. Even as their economy contracts, Russia is pouring resources to prop up Ukraine and Syria – states they see slipping away from their orbit. And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.
It’s up to us to help remake that system. And that means we have to set priorities.”
At the top of the list of priorities he placed protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks. He recognized that both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people. They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country and they undermine our allies.
However, we are addressing the problem directly. The U.S. leads a coalition of over 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out this vicious ideology. As a result of over 10,000 air strikes we are eliminating their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons. We are also training, arming, and supporting forces who are reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.
Finally, on this score, he challenged Congress. “If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, you should finally authorize the use of military force against ISIL.”
Question 4, was “How can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?”
President Obama reminded all that our Constitution begins with three simple words, “We the People.” He injected that this means all the people. He declared that the future we want, which includes opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids – all are attainable, but only if all of us engage. And we will only achieve it if we fix our politics.
Mr. Obama clarified by adding, a better politics doesn’t mean we must agree on everything. However, democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest. Too many Americans feel that way right now.
After laying down the challenge, he added, “This cannot be my task – or any President’s – alone. It will only happen when the American people demand it. It will depend on you. That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.”
Mr. Obama admitted that what he’s asking for is hard. “It’s easier to be cynical. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.”
In closing, the President put the onus squarely on the American people. He said:
“So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen.”
At 10:11 p.m., the President, in bidding adieu to the assembly announced firmly,
“That’s why I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”
At 10:19 p.m., Speaker Paul Ryan adjourned the House until 9 a.m. this morning.
That’s the story of “SOTU #8: President Obama’s Last Stand!”
I’m done; holla back!
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