State of the Union

22 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A real State of the Union address.

AS MY colleague wrote yesterday, the fact that there is virtually no chance of any of the priorities outlined in Barack Obama’s State of the Union address becoming law during his administration renders the entire affair a sort of pantomime. The Internet-savvy White House went directly to social media Tuesday night – a deft move analysts say that could change the way politicians convey their big news to Americans. As predicted, Republican responses to the speech ranged from dismissal to anger—or rather, mock anger; since it has always been clear that Republicans would reject anything Mr Obama were to offer up, their condemnations of his failure to reach out were pantomime too. Photo: AFP Cyber security, surveillance, and a free and open internet were tech-related key words in President Barack Obama’s address broadcast live across the United States on Tuesday night in a 59-minute speech that acts as a policy wish list for the US President. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world.

Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah, inadvertently captured the circular logic of the situation: “For him, it’s all 2016 partisan politics now, and Republicans shouldn’t waste time debating the merits of the president’s political talking points.” Of course, if Republicans are unwilling to debate the merits of Mr Obama’s proposals, one can hardly expect him to deliver anything other than political talking points. When you get done going to junior college for nothing, and you still can’t get a job, you’ll love my new Robin Hood tax plan — take from the rich and give to the poor. The text of the speech was posted on Medium.com, and in a brief introduction, the White House wrote that the public usually “remains in the dark” until the speech is actually given. “For the first time, the White House is making the full text of the speech available to citizens around the country online,” he introduction read. “By making the text available to the public in advance, the White House is continuing efforts to reach a wide online audience and give people a range of ways to consume the speech.” The resulting buzz led to some widely shared social media posts. Anyway, in this White House we don’t call people “poor,” we call them “middle class.” Our policies are all about “middle class economics.” I’m also going to raise the minimum wage. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

Efforts last year to curb NSA powers failed in the Senate but the President said a report is expected in February that will offer suggestions on how to balance security with civil liberties. “As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties – and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks,” he said. Also on his to-do list: addressing tax loopholes that allowed tech giants like Apple and Google to avoid paying significant US taxes and establishing free community college programs – approximately equivalent to a technical college in Australia – for students. “For far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight,” Obama said. Traditionally, a response to the President’s speech comes from the opposition party and this year the duty fell to Republican senator Joni Ernst from Iowa. Well, I was going to, but Malia and Sasha were having one of those teenage sulks — you folks know how that goes — so I didn’t have anybody to help me open the PDF from NSA, which wouldn’t down-load on Microsoft Word because. . . So far this year, Obama has stiffed the GOP agenda.”) Those of us sick of all this talk of empathetic nods and inches given or stiffed would prefer to find some way to talk about the content of governance.

The only technology issue referenced by Ernst, who wore camouflage-patterned heels for the occasion, was acknowledgment of tax reform and the need to address cyber security – couched equally alongside pledges to counter Iran’s nuclear program and abortion. At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth. Barring a miracle, Mr Obama’s proposal to raise capital gains and inheritance taxes, which chiefly affect the rich, while lowering income taxes on the middle class will not be adopted by the current Congress. But one can look at its political reception to gauge whether this is an issue that effectively advances the Democrats’ attempts to force Republicans to take unpopular stances. If so, it will be more likely to play a role in the party’s profiling over the next two years, as it readies its stance for the 2016 presidential elections.

Since the only hope of getting significant legislation passed in America now seems to be winning an electoral trifecta and gaining control over the presidency and both houses of Congress, the first key question to ask about any proposed legislation is whether it furthers that goal for the party that proposed it. Because the details of the proposal will be unrecognisably altered by the time it makes it into whatever legislation is adopted three years down the line (provided the side proposing it wins that trifecta), it is a good idea not to get too wrapped up in specifics. Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another – or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled America forward? For example, is the Earned Income Tax Credit still the best way to address inequality, or does it fail to reach the poorest because they are unemployed? The key, though, is to look at policy proposals not in isolation, but as moves in a long game that gradually determine the shape of policy proposals on each side.

Ben is back in construction – and home for dinner every night. “It is amazing,” Rebekah wrote, “what you can bounce back from when you have to…we are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.” America, Rebekah and Ben’s story is our story. But it’s a pantomime of actions and attitudes that are real, or may eventually become real if one side amasses the power to push legislation through America’s hopelessly creaky, antiquated, broke-down political system. In that case there probably isn’t much point paying attention to American democratic politics at all, and I recommend switching to a good hockey match. You’re the people I was thinking of six years ago today, in the darkest months of the crisis, when I stood on the steps of this Capitol and promised we would rebuild our economy on a new foundation.

Alan, you’ll be glad to know that my administration realizes what a great nation Cuba is, and we’re doing everything we can to show the Cuban government that we respect their executive, legislative and judicial legitimacy. Today, we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts, and a new consumer watchdog to protect us from predatory lending and abusive credit card practices. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years. 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.

Like millions of hardworking Americans, Rebekah isn’t asking for a handout, but she is asking that we look for more ways to help families get ahead. In fact, at every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot. That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement – and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.

During World War II, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority – so this country provided universal childcare. It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us. But things like child care and sick leave and equal pay; things like lower mortgage premiums and a higher minimum wage – these ideas will make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of families. America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world.

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. Tonight, I’m also asking more businesses to follow the lead of companies like CVS and UPS, and offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships – opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education. 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. But there are also millions of Americans who work in jobs that didn’t even exist ten or twenty years ago – jobs at companies like Google, and eBay, and Tesla.

Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come. 21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair. Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense. I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine – one that delivers the right treatment at the right time.

I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs – converting sunlight into liquid fuel; creating revolutionary prosthetics, so that a veteran who gave his arms for his country can play catch with his kid; pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay. 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. When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military – then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world. We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents.

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 Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan, we’ve trained their security forces, who’ve now taken the lead, and we’ve honored our troops’ sacrifice by supporting that country’s first democratic transition.

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. 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 upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small – by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies. 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.

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. 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. 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.

In the Asia Pacific, we are modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules – in how they trade, how they resolve maritime disputes, and how they participate in meeting common international challenges like nonproliferation and disaster relief. And no challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse.

I said this because I had seen it in my own life, in a nation that gave someone like me a chance; because I grew up in Hawaii, a melting pot of races and customs; because I made Illinois my home – a state of small towns, rich farmland, and one of the world’s great cities; a microcosm of the country where Democrats and Republicans and Independents, good people of every ethnicity and every faith, share certain bedrock values. It’s held up as proof not just of my own flaws – of which there are many – but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naïve, and that there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it.

I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates from New York to California; and our newest officers at West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs, and New London. I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in ten Americans call home. And many of you have told me that this isn’t what you signed up for – arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.

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. Because I want this chamber, this city, to reflect the truth – that for all our blind spots and shortcomings, we are a people with the strength and generosity of spirit to bridge divides, to unite in common effort, and help our neighbors, whether down the street or on the other side of the world.

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