Let’s face it. The State of the Union is merely a political charade. Early into his speech, Obama proclaimed, “Tonight, this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent.” Honestly, this was downright ridiculous. It is a pleasant thought, idealizing a joint session of Congress as both cohesive and undivided, but anyone who has any trace of knowledge concerning modern politics knows these words as a fallacy. In fact, the bored, unexpressive face of Rep. John Boehner, adjacent from a glistening Joe Biden, revealed the true fabrication of any apparent unity between both parties.
Soon after, Obama acknowledged that if “debate 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.” I concur. However, this statement was nothing more than a disguised jab at Republican leaders, who Obama has blamed for, in his eyes, manufacturing an unnecessary government shutdown. “This chamber speaks with one voice”? Doubtful.
Next, the president addressed the recent budget compromise, arguing that due “to the work of Democrats and Republicans, this Congress finally produced a budget that undoes some of last year’s severe cuts.” If you haven’t already read my recent piece on the Ryan-Murray budget, you would know that I consider it to be generally unimpressive, as it ultimately fails to address the true concerns that will continue to deepen the federal deficit for years to come: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
The next bit of Obama’s speech was, in my opinion, the most well-crafted piece of the entire address. The president attributed the success of Americans to “the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.” He went on to add, “It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is Speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth.” Whoever actually wrote this section of the State of the Union hit upon the central idea of the American dream, a concept which truly does inspire and enthuse individuals. Well done.
Recognizing the importance of job creation and economic opportunity, Obama laid out several proposals to expand the middle class. Let’s “close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home,” he declared, offering to “create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes” (a possible nod to “Bridgegate,” which is tarnishing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s administration). Next, Obama addressed the value of keeping “high-tech manufacturing jobs” in the United States, and promoting “goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.’” He also proposed patent reform, an increase in natural gas production, setting standards for truck’s fuel consumption, and overdue immigration reform. This all sounds fantastic… it truly does. However, can we expect all of these changes in the next year? I doubt it. I would honestly like to believe that we can accomplish all of these things, but if we are failing to pass basic appropriations measures, will the focus of Congress really shift to patent reform?
Next, Obama addressed Congress’s failure to renew unemployment insurance. While I do support the restoration of such a program, the unemployment system must be reformed as well. The president seemed to agree: “we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy.” Yes, I agree, but I would have liked to hear a proposal on how to effectively reform the unemployment system.
After addressing education reform, Obama added that “women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work.” Well, according to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, it is illegal to provide women and men different salaries who maintain the same profession and title within a company. The “77 cents” comment is misleading: it is based on the difference in annual median income between men in women, and does not take into account differences in professions. I do believe that this gap ought to be closed, but this remark is an example of the use of misleading statistics used in political speeches, which I do not condone.
In an attempt to work around Congressional polarization, Obama announced that “in the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.” Essentially, after stressing the value of compromise and unity throughout his speech, Obama chose to use his powers as president to cut Republican leaders out of the minimum wage debate. I fully support this measure, but I just find his message to be inconsistent.
Next, the president finally touched on Obamacare. He criticized Republicans for their failed attempts to repeal his signature legislation, adding that “the first forty [votes] were plenty.” He urged all Americans to sign up for health insurance programs by March 31st.
Lastly, Obama discussed foreign policy. He declared that “by the end of this year… America’s longest war will finally be over” stressing the importance of reducing troop involvement overseas. However, the president asserted America’s role in the world, and promised that he “will never hesitate” in using force abroad when necessary. Interestingly enough, Obama openly supported “talks to end the conflict there [in Israel]; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel.” The creation of a Palestinian state has been a concept rarely addressed by presidents in the past. Obama mentioned America’s role in ending conflict in Syria, disarming Iran, and concluded by telling the tragic story of Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger who was brutally attacked in Kandahar.
Overall, the State of the Union was mediocre. Though there were some inspiring moments, I felt as though there was a little too much talk and less of a discussion of the previous year’s accomplishments (possibly because there were very few accomplishments in 2013?). Anyways, check out this article. I found it especially revealing. Leave a comment with your opinion of the State of the Union Address!
Note: All text is quoted from the full transcript of the State of the Union address, available here.