Michelle DeRoche, Contributing Writer
On Tuesday, Jan. 28, President Barack Obama, now entering his sixth year as president, gave his State of the Union address.
Obama’s topics of choice ranged from jobs to the minimum wage, from energy policy to education and from healthcare to the United States’ military presence. The State of the Union address is an occasion for the president to list his priorities for the year, give a recap of the past year and discuss the legislation he wants to enact.
In this year’s address, Obama expressed greater willingness to act without Congress.
“[W]herever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.
“I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls or schools like Sandy Hook,” he said later in the address. While gun violence is a growing issue, Obama used the issue to tout the power of his position.
Ever so casually, Obama mentioned once more how important his job is: “And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”
Obama’s sense of self-importance, evident in his address, needs to be reined in. He cannot forget the fundamental principle of checks and balances that protects the individual rights of American citizens. His attempt to return to the Founding Fathers’ thought was minimal at best. Instead of referencing the Founders’ principle of separation of powers, Obama repeatedly referred to the United States as a land of opportunity. His trigger word throughout the speech was “opportunity.” He used it 12 times over the course of the address.
At another point in the address, Obama mentioned that he did not want young people to view the American Dream as an “empty promise.” He told the familiar tale of rags-to-riches, reminding his audience “[that]the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker; [that] the son of a barkeeper is Speaker of the House; [that] the son of a single mom can be president of the greatest nation on Earth.”
He said this as if that success were possible for all Americans, even when the country they call home is $17 trillion in debt.
The increasing federal debt should be a concern of Obama’s, but in this speech, it hardly seemed so. He spoke of “undo[ing] the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research.” He also spoke of budget cuts that take away jobs. Ultimately, he seemed more concerned with climate change than with the national debt.
With regard to climate change, Obama said, “[W]hen our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” However, Obama will not be able to look his children’s children in the eye and say he left them a “safer, more stable world,” since he has failed to lower the national debt.
Trying to stay positive, Obama said, “Our deficits — cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s No. 1 place to invest; America is.” While the deficit may have decreased, America’s debt has only risen. In 2008, the federal debt was about $10 trillion, and now it is up to $17 trillion. Any business leader who invests in America invests in the U.S. debt.
Over the course of the address, Obama used his typical “don’t-blame-me-unless-you-have-a-better-idea” tactic as a copout.
“If you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people and increase choice — tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans,” he said.
While he made many vague promises of legislative and presidential action, Obama was very clear about his intention to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. He asked Congress to “get on board” and urged all listeners to “give America a raise.”
After listening to Obama’s address and thinking back on 2013, the health care program and the government shutdown come to mind. Obama failed to acknowledge the difficulty of implementing his health care or the negative consequences it will have. Perceiving only the good in his own creation, he emphasized the ways in which his health-insurance program will bring “peace of mind” to many Americans. Yet he failed to mention the headaches of the website or the impact on hospitals, doctors or current health care plans.
Neither did he dwell long upon the shutdown: “But when that debate [over the size of the federal government] prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy — when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States — then we are not doing right by the American people,” he said.
Obama does deserve a pat on the back for a well-written speech. Telling a story is the easiest way to capture someone’s attention, and Obama did just that, highlighting individuals suffering from job cuts and war. By doing so, he tried to bring the big government down to the homes of individual citizens. Whether he succeeded or not is another story.
At least he ended his speech with, “God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”