Assessing the 2013 State of the Union Address
On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama delivered the first State of the Union address of his second term. Following the speech, the internet was flooded with comments about Senator Marco Rubio’s awkward sip of water during the Republican Response, but it’s important to not let the president’s important words be completely overshadowed. Much of the address was very inspirational and quite promising, so in case you missed it, don’t worry, because I’ll cover a few of the highlights.
President Obama got his first standing ovation just one minute into his speech, when he promised that, “after a decade of grinding war,” United States soldiers will be leaving Afghanistan and returning to the comfort of their own homes. It was one of the few times that Congressmen and women on both sides of the aisle applauded together, showing their gratitude to the servicemen and women who risked their lives defending the country in a war that has lasted far too long, taken far too many lives, and cost far too much money. 40 minutes into his speech he came back to the War in Afghanistan, definitively stating that at the end of next year, it will be over. This is a big first step for the United States, one that will hopefully result in the evacuation of more troops from the Middle East who are still engaged in wars fueled by questionable motives. The President also argued that the U.S. needs better mental health care for veterans, and the country needs to be able to provide them with the benefits, education, and job opportunities that they have certainly earned and deserve. It would be difficult to argue that this is not an idea worth supporting.
A major focus of the President’s address early on was, of course, the economy. Dominating the U.S. political arena for years now, it was no surprise that proposals to help boost our current financial situation and reduce the national deficit came just five minutes into the speech. The main point Obama wanted to drive home was that the U.S. is reliant on a thriving middle class, one that can live above the poverty level and fend for itself, and it needs to be strengthened. He said of the upcoming sequester, which will trigger an automatic one trillion dollar cut at the end of this month if it isn’t resolved before then, that Congress needs to find a fair compromise that doesn’t skip defense cuts while axing healthcare, because we don’t want to “ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction, while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and the most powerful.” He also noted the nation’s need to eliminate faulty tax loopholes that allow the wealthy to pay less, while average Joes all around the country are hit hard. These declarations are fine by me, as I am certainly not one of the country’s most powerful citizens, and I appreciate having an equal opportunity to create a good life for myself and the opportunity to pursue the ever-elusive “American Dream.” I don’t enjoy watching the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, and I’d like to believe that that’s not what the United States is all about, so hopefully Congress can pass some sort of reform that will work to restore my faith in this nation.
The President then touched on the need for the U.S. to start producing more jobs and increase manufacturing in order to reduce our dependence on other nations. Hopes of speeding the transition to alternative energy sources, granting more permits for (hopefully environmentally friendly) natural gas projects, and fighting climate change were addressed, with the idea that these new industries will produce jobs and valuable resources that will strengthen the economy. The moment of the address that hit closest to home for me was the President’s plea to raise minimum wage, bumping it up from $7.25 to $9.00 per hour. Being a recent college graduate attempting to make his way into the working world, this increase would of course be welcomed with opened arms, and I’m sure all of the working families struggling to make ends meet would feel the same way. Unfortunately for me and many others, it seems it may not be a very realistic goal, as House Speaker John Boehner has already voiced his opposition of the idea. It will surely be a hard fought battle, though I would wager that $9.00 is a bit too steep for now. Baby steps, after all. Only time will tell how things play out.
Other items of note include President Obama’s urging that “now’s the time to get [comprehensive immigration reform] done” and his desire to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would entitle women to “earn a living equal to their efforts.” Immigrants and women do the same work as everyone else, so this seems perfectly reasonable to me. The President introduced his plan to create a non-partisan commission that will help to improve the voting experience in America, and acknowledged the nation’s need for massive infrastructure repair, with crumbling roads and “nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges all across the country.” Americans need to be well-educated if they want to be qualified for any new jobs that are created here, which is why education reform was suggested, with affordable high-quality preschool available to everyone, regardless of income, and more incentives for colleges to provide affordable education. There was also a fair deal of fear mongering, as the President dramatically mentioned the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs and threats of domestic cyber attacks, but that’s to be expected, as the U.S. needs to retain its strong hand and have a reason for engaging in conflict, in case our leaders decide that it is in the nation’s best interest.
The most passionate part of the speech came near the end, when the issue of gun control was raised. The President called for new policies that would help to protect children, which is something that can most certainly be embraced by all, regardless of their position on the Second Amendment. It is crucial that the United States begin doing everything in its power to avoid another tragedy like those that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado, and this should not be a topic open to debate. In hopes of keeping weapons out of the hands of those who aren’t fit to operate them, the President called for thorough background checks on individuals purchasing guns and the creation of new laws that will prevent firearms from being resold to criminals, and his words were met with great applause from the mother and father of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old who was shot and killed in Chicago just days after performing at President Obama’s inauguration. It was a truly heart-warming scene, and one can only hope that our legislators will achieve reform for the current system in the wake of these recent tragedies.
Lastly, on a superficial note, there were quite a few pink and purple ties in the crowd, with Vice President Biden, House Speaker Boehner, and senior Senator Harry Reid among those sporting the look. Perhaps this is just the current style, but maybe there’s more to it, and these politicians are attempting to find a middle ground somewhere between red and blue, providing hope for all Americans that bipartisan compromise is possible and this Congress will actually get some meaningful work done. I won’t hold my breath, but whatever the reason, it certainly made the chamber look nice and bright.
With audience members looking good and the President’s proposals sounding great, it would seem this was a productive address. It remains to be seen how much of this will actually come to fruition, though. There is no guaranteeing that the Republican and Democratic Congressmen and women will be able to put their differences aside and actually come to some worthwhile agreements, even with the President’s urging. I guess that’s just the way the system works, for better or worse. We’ll have to wait until next year to see what state the Union’s in then.