“I have no more campaigns to run…” *Someone claps on the left* “I know because I won both of them.” – President Barack Obama declared at the State Of The Union Address.
President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address and this time, he stood in front of a Congress controlled by Republicans. President Obama laid out his vision for what his administration calls “middle-class economics.” It’s those “middle-class economics” that brought Michelle Obama’s special guest to the SOTU. Rebekah Erler, a Minneapolis woman who wrote the president a letter, telling her story of the American dream and struggle. “Middle-class economics works,” President Obama said, after telling the Erler’s story.
And as heartwarming as it was, we couldn’t help but notice the non-mention of Boko Haram, those missing Nigerian schoolgirls or the death and carnage that’s been racking the country with the biggest population in Africa. Paris got a mention. They’re an ally. We get that, but to negate what’s going on in Africa? It’s irresponsible. And even though President Obama touched on Ferguson, we were saddened by the missed opportunity in this speech (one short day after Martin Luther King Day) for President Obama to encourage his own American people people of color, who have watched our own die at the hands of police more often than we should.
President Obama said, “We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.” And that’s where it ended. President Obama held these hypothetical victims at a parallel in an attempt to establish some type of common ground between to the two. The only piece of real estate there is death. And instead of trying to get the government to “surely” understand, President Obama needed to address his American people with some type of plan to help end the systematic racism plaguing us or at least make a promise, like his many others, to stop allowing these brutal murders to go on.
“We are fifteen years into this new century,” President Obama assured. “It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. But tonight, we turn the page,” President Obama guaranteed at the start of his speech. And maybe he’s turned the page on Ferguson. On Staten Island. On Ohio. On us.
These SOTUs are typically hopeful and yes, President Obama’s sixth address was everything, if not riveting, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. needed more than hope to create a movement that actually shifted an entire country. And with President Obama’s brief mention of Selma and the Voting Rights Act, we’re wondering why he even mentioned it at all? Cool points? He’s already racked up those. But when it came to the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, we were making the face that John Boehner was making all night–The Grinch. This was all President Obama had to say about one of the biggest moments in Black history, that is finding itself to be an eerily timed piece of pop culture (thanks Ava Duvernay):
“We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.”
Superheros are confined to fiction and it’s difficult to look up to the leader of the free world and not expect to be rescued. He’s a man, with an enormous career, but he’s got the power that Dr. King was looking for in Lyndon B. Johnson to help change the threads of oppression in America. So maybe, in this case President Obama can indeed save us?
In his two terms, President Obama has done some saving us. The economy is growing, there’s more jobs created than ever, the unemployment rate is lowering, more students are graduating, more people are insured, foreign oil is no longer a scary thing, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over and we’ve risen out of a recession. In this SOTU, President Obama didn’t want to focus on a checklist of items that he could propose to the world, so he said, he wanted to “focus more on the values at stake in the choices before us.” From police brutality to a woman’s right to choose, these are the things that President Obama tackled in his speech:
On Equal Pay For Women:
“Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages. That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time. We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they’ve earned. And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”
On Women’s Right To Choose:
“We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.”
On Selma & The Right To Vote:
“We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.
We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift. Surely we can agree it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.”
“In West Africa, our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers are rolling back Ebola – saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease. I couldn’t be prouder of them, and I thank this Congress for your bipartisan support of their efforts. But the job is not yet done – and the world needs to use this lesson to build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics, invest in smart development, and eradicate extreme poverty.”
On Middle-Class Economics:
“Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way. We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns. We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto.”
“First, we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists – from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris. We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies.
Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America. In Iraq and Syria, American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism. This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed.”
On Paid Sick Leave:
“Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave. Forty-three million. Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home. So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own. And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let’s put it to a vote right here in Washington. Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It’s the right thing to do.”
On Free Community College:
“I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero.
Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt. Understand, you’ve got to earn it – you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time. Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible. I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today. And I want to work with this Congress, to make sure Americans already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn’t derail anyone’s dreams.
Thanks to Vice President Biden’s great work to update our job training system, we’re connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics.”
On Tax Cuts:
“As Americans, we don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes, as long as everybody else does, too. But for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight. They’ve riddled it with giveaways the superrich don’t need, denying a break to middle class families who do.
This year, we have an opportunity to change that. Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America. Let’s use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home. Let’s simplify the system and let a small business owner file based on her actual bank statement, instead of the number of accountants she can afford. And let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth. We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college. We need a tax code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together.”
“In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date. When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new. Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people. And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo. As His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is the work of “small steps.” These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba. And after years in prison, we’re overjoyed that Alan Gross is back where he belongs. Welcome home, Alan.”
On Jobs For Veterans:
“And as a new generation of veterans comes home, we owe them every opportunity to live the American Dream they helped defend. Already, we’ve made strides towards ensuring that every veteran has access to the highest quality care. We’re slashing the backlog that had too many veterans waiting years to get the benefits they need, and we’re making it easier for vets to translate their training and experience into civilian jobs. Joining Forces, the national campaign launched by Michelle and Jill Biden, has helped nearly 700,000 veterans and military spouses get new jobs. So to every CEO in America, let me repeat: If you want somebody who’s going to get the job done, hire a veteran.”
On The Internet:
“I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.
No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids. We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism. And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information. If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable. If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe.”
And how did he end it? Hopeful, strong and proud:
“My fellow Americans, we too are a strong, tight-knit family. We, too, have made it through some hard times. Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America. We’ve laid a new foundation. A brighter future is ours to write. Let’s begin this new chapter – together – and let’s start the work right now.”
What did you think was missing beauties? Sound off in the comments below.