Each year, the President takes center stage in the chamber for the House of Representatives and addresses a joint session of Congress as well as the nation. The usual goal is to outline where we sit as a society and also allows the sitting president to set their upcoming agenda. President Obama’s speech Wednesday night addressed a number of initiatives. Yet the ceremony of the speech itself is usually a gross display of grandstanding.
Bob Schieffer laid it out best during the CBS pre-speech analysis when he compared the president walking down the aisle to the podium as the “greatest ego trip.” And what a trip it was. A cadre of people reaching out to grasp Obama’s hand. A parade of slathering fools hoping for a bit of charm to ooze all over them. The general back-slapping and glad-handing with ooh-rah cheerleading. When watching it, it’s hard to be anything, but cynical as the display is a grotesque glimpse into the greasy world of politics.
Seeing as the whole affair reeks of political gamesmanship, let’s at least have some fun analyzing and breaking down the various points laid out during his speech:
- Climate change and energy reform: This is actually an outstanding idea and needs to be driven home more often. The idea of continuing to bury our heads on an issue that affects each and every one of us is an absurdity. The majority of the scientific community has spoken and anything else is just lazy contempt. The fact that we can tie this changing climate to energy initiatives that will be both beneficial to our planet’s health as well as beneficial to our growing economy is what should be the main drive to accomplish that change. If we fail to do anything, other countries will take up the lead and our flagging industry will be left in the dust.
- Establishing a national referendum on high quality pre-school education: This is a no-brainer. Our education system is desperately falling behind. With more and more students failing to even graduate, setting them up for a brighter future by initiating education earlier in their development is a worthy goal. Education is a right, not an option. According to Obama, every $1 spent will save $7 in the long run. This plan is both financially feasible and is an investment in our kids futures as well as in our countries economic and social growth.
- Higher education: Obama’s Administration is introducing a program labeled as the “College Scorecard.” According to Obama, it should allow prospective students and their parents to figure out “where they can get the most bang for their buck.” While this is a nice idea, the lack of any plan outlined in his speech really just relegates this to the realm of nice platitudes. Maybe we’ll see more in the upcoming days and months, but for now, it’s a weak and insubstantial plan for a program.
- The drawdown in Afghanistan: I have to start off and say that I’m always skeptical about how we will continue to engage our apparent enemies abroad. Obama laid out the additional removal of 34,000 troops from the Afghan conflict by the end of 2013. He also re-affirmed that we will be done in that country by the end of 2014, but there is a serious lack of confidence in this regard. Just because we will be completely out of Afghanistan doesn’t necessarily mean we will be done in that region. His commitment to the awful drone program just leaves a bad taste in the mouth and really doesn’t inspire any confidence that our meddling is over.
- A commitment to better cyber-security: The irony of an administration that is concerned about cyber-security, while simultaneously using their own citizens private correspondence and shrouding their intelligence gathering programs in the utmost secrecy is a level of disconnect that only a politician could achieve. While outside cyber-attacks are a growing concern, the president has no leg to stand-on in this fight.
- Improve the voting experience: Obama announced a plan to address this growing problem, but the solution is simple. Election day should be a mandatory paid holiday for everybody. If we can shut-down our country for Christmas, then we can shut down our country for arguably the most important cultural and political day of the year. Elections are the life-blood of our country. That right needs to be protected above all else.
- Gun Control: According to CBS, this volatile issue hadn’t been mentioned in any State of the Union since President Clinton’s term in office. After the Sandy Hook school shooting, we can’t ignore the issue any longer. Obama pointed out since that shooting “more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.” It’s a damn-cold sobering statistic. Unfortunately, I have no faith that anything substantial can be passed in this current climate. The left and right are at two entirely different spectrum’s. I’m guessing that the implementation of more rigorous background checks will be the best we can do. Obama had it right when he said all of those dead people deserve each and every member of congress to put their vote on the line whether it’s a yes or a no. At least we can get the ball moving and see who is against anything sensible.
- The economy: It’s the single most pressing issue we face. We are in a recovery, but we are still walking a fine line between crisis and stabilization. His biggest push for trying to improve the status quo was the announcement that he would seek to raise the federal minimum wage from it’s current $7.25 an hour to $9. It’s a bold move, but there is an even bolder one. He pointed out in his speech both he and Mitt Romney agreed during the election that the minimum wage should be tied to the current cost of living. Instead of using an arbitrary number, people should have wages that allow them to thrive and not stagnate. If it works for CEO’s and the top 1% then it should work for the middle and lower class. Also, to build a reduction in the deficit, we need to cut both extraneous expenses like a ridiculously bloated military budget as well as raising revenue through higher taxes for everybody. Not just the super wealthy, but everybody. Unfortunately for us, we have a costly series of conflicts to pay for and we can’t pass that along any longer. Someone has to pay for it and that someone is all of us.