President Obama has always been a superb orator, standing easily with people like Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill. He has the gift to enthrall and captivate an audience with the strength and power of his oratory, even when the words are not themselves necessarily stirring.
From his opening words, the President attempted to make the case for a country that can work together, for a Congress that can get legislation passed. He said that “the Consitution makes us not rivals for power, but partners for progress”. The reality is that Congress is incapable of working on cooperative ventures that will improve the lives of all the people of the country. Nonetheless, it is the Presidents place, regardless of the difficulty, to try to make cooperation a reality.
Obama made much of the fact that he is winding down two costly, unnecessary wars and bringing the troops home. The disaster of those two wars can finally be put behind us, despite the devastating cost in both financial terms and in the lives lost without any victory, without any gain.
The President pointed out that despite the improving housing market, companies are making more profit, and jobs are again being created, far too many people are unable to find employment. The implication is that Congress is far too busy impeding the progress of the nation by refusing to cooperate with one another, instead of doing whatever they can to improve the economy.
Corporations are making bigger profits than ever in history, and yet the Middle Class has seen their wages stagnate, jobs disappear, factories close. The wealthy continue to increase their wealth at the expense of the Middle Class and the poor.
The President acknowledged that the only way to improve the economy is to ensure that good, stable, Middle Class jobs are available to those that are prepared to work hard. When the President said that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, that you can get ahead, he was plainly not talking about the millions of Americans that work hard every day, laboring for wages that do not cover the cost of basic food and rent.
He did say that this was the basic bargain that built this country. That bargain has vanished, instead replaced by a lascivious greed that infests Congress and the wealthy. The President was clear that the bargain needs to be restored, to allow the Middle Class to flourish once more.
When the President said that “it is our unfinished task to make sure that the government works on behalf of the many and not just the few”, he touched a nerve. For far too long, Washington has done precisely the opposite, working for the few, the wealthy, the corporations, ignoring the hard-working people who keep the wealthy in yachts and furs and fast cars.
Conservatives disparage the working classes by calling them takers, people who want something from government, while taking everything they can from those same working people. Then they refuse to give anything back in the way of pensions or medical services.
When the President spoke about encouraging free enterprise and individual initiative, he did not talk about those that do have initiative, but receive nothing in return, those that strive to produce new businesses and make their ideas a reality, but fail again and again. They fail not because their ideas are not worthy, but because large corporations stifle their ideas, take those ideas and make them their own, or create monopolies that make it impossible to succeed.
The idea proposed by the President that the “doors of opportunity be opened to every child in this nation” is fine in theory, but in practise, the children of the wealthy have an almost infinitely better chance of succeeding than do the children of the poor. The power of wealth weights society in favor of those that already have the means, and Congress ensures that they continue to have all the advantages. This they do by cutting education, firing teachers, closing schools and expecting parents to home school.
When Obama said that the people expect members of Congress to put aside their differences and work for the interests of the country, even when they do not agree, he was clearly wishing that this were the case. It is true, as he pointed out, that this is the only way that the country can move forward on anything. Conservatives have clearly decided that they do not want that to be the case. The would far prefer to obstruct the business of the nation.
The “responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all”, and yet Conservatives are doing whatever they can to make sure that all the gains in this society go to the smallest segment of this society, those that already have more than they need. We want everyone to shoulder the burdens of society, except those at the very top, the privileged, and the greedy.
The President spoke about reducing the deficit, and that $2.5Tn has been cut from future deficits through spending cuts and raising taxes on the wealthiest one percent, moving the country towards reductions of $4Tn.
The problem is that those spending cuts have come at the expense of the poorest, and of the Middle Class, who have lost their jobs even while the wealthy have benefitted from the stimulus package implemented in 2008. Government itself has hemorhaged jobs at an unsustainable rate, leaving essential services without the resources required to do their jobs.
No business can cut its way to prosperity, and a country even less. Without sustainable growth, the country will not prosper. Corporations have made record profits, and yet they are not hiring, they are not paying their workers more, or giving them better benefits. All the profit growth has accrued to the wealthy, the CEOs, and to a lesser extent the shareholders, who for the most part are already wealthy.
Obama broached the subject of the sequester, which entails a series of mandatory spending cuts across the economy, touching every facet of American life. This was a muddle-headed plan introduced by the Republican Congress to avoid the very difficult job of agreeing on a budget.
Conservatives keep trying to extend the deadline, or withdraw the cuts to the military, but they have very deftly ensured that they are hoist by their own petard. They are attempting to blame the President for the sequester, but it was their Congress that agreed to the deal, and they need to pay the piper.
These cuts, as the President reiterated, affect the military, education, energy and medical research. He said clearly that the cuts will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. For the Republicans to allow this to continue demonstrates their lack of responsibility towards their fellow citizens and their inability to effectively do the job of crafting essential legislation.
The Republican solution is to save the military cuts, while making ever larger cuts to essential social programs like Medicare, Social Security, education and job training. The military may be essential, but there is no rhyme or reason for the massive military that this country has created. We are not at war, at least, not a real war.
The war is one of ideologies, ideas, philosophies, and that war cannot be fought on a battlefield. You cannot destroy the ideas of the mind with weapons of war. Republicans, like so many conservatives before them, glorify war, and worship the violence of war. A larger military does not make you a stronger nation, a strong nation is created with superior ideas, superior technology and workable solutions to problems.
I will have more to say about the Presidents speech in the days to come, but I will let it rest here.
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