The State Of The Union – A Tale Of A Bipartisan Visionary


In Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech, viewers had a peek into the President’s psyche. He spoke of a country whose greatness is not a relic of the past. He spoke of populism – of taking care of the poor and the elderly. He emotionally addressed gun violence and voter rights. He proposed policy changes. Like many speeches of the last four years, a pervasive theme was bipartisanship – and for the most part, his speech fell on deaf Republican ideas. That being said, the President started the speech with a bow to a controversial GOP obsession – the deficit.

The President opened the speech saying that while the economy is better, it’s still not good enough and we need to do more to create jobs. At the same time, he addressed income inequality.

But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs – but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs – but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

The President’s first specific was about the deficit, where he called for sacrifice from everyone. He proposed modest cuts to Medicare as well as tax reform. He acknowledged that creating jobs is ultimately the best way out of debt.

Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit. The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America. That’s what tax reform can deliver. That’s what we can do together.

I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won’t be easy. The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans. So let’s set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.

It was at that point that the speech took a more progressive turn with both anecdotal and policy nods to how we should create jobs and how to make life easier for the working poor. He spoke of American innovation and of green jobs.

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

He warned Congress and the nation that “we must do more to combat climate change,” but environmentalists will likely be critical of some of his solutions, which include a bipartisan, free market approach and an increase in oil and natural gas drilling. If Congress doesn’t act, the President warned, he would take executive action.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

Obama stressed the importance of infrastructure and of education. His immigration reform proposals included border security as well as a path to citizenship.

He stressed that Congress should pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, so women can finally be assured of equal pay for equal work.

He called for preschool for all American children.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the speech was something that was not even mentioned on the campaign trail – an increase in the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour, with increases tied to the cost of living.

We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

He then turned to the world, praising our troops and touting the end of two decade-long wars. He called for a diplomatic approach with Iran and for a stronger approach to cyber-security.

Then he brought the speech back home, where his mood became more somber as he spoke of gun violence and begged Congress to stop filibustering guns and simply allow a vote:

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.

He closed the speech with an anecdote of an African-American woman named Desiline Victor, who at 102-years-old, waited six hours to vote. “The room, he said, erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read ‘I Voted.'”

Predictably, the speech, an appeal to bipartisanship, had a very partisan response. The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, looked dour as he reluctantly awarded the President a few small smatterings of applause. Once again, Republicans and Democrats sat together – which made many seem uncomfortable.

As usual, the American people are far less partisan than Congress, with 53% of people having a “very positive” reaction to the speech and just 22% having a negative response.

Screen-Shot-2012-12-27-at-6.14.13-PM Wendy Gittleson grew up in a political family. Her passion is for social justice and fairness. She is the Senior Editor for Addicting Info. She lives in a union household. In her rare downtime, you’ll find her hiking or exploring the shoreline with her dogs. Follow her on her Facebook page or on Twitter, @wendygittleson