Reading Between the Lines Of President Obama's State of the Union 2014
President Obama -- columnist says remember what wasn't said
[The View From Washington]
President Barack Obama declared in his State of the Union 2014 speech: “Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”
In order to accurately assess President Obama’s 6th State of the Union (SOU) address it’s important to understand a bit of the history behind the speech.
Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution states, “He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient...”
Until Woodrow Wilson became president his predecessors provided a written report to Congress every year or two years. Wilson, with a strong background in public administration saw the role of the president as the chief legislative leader and representative of the people. He was president from 1913-1921 and he started the tradition of delivering the SOU to a joint session of Congress in order to set a tone and lay out his legislative agenda.
As technology developed, the political significance of the speech took on greater significance as well. With the advent of radio and then television, presidents saw their ability to reach the American public directly, articulate their agenda, and shape perception as an important political opportunity. In 1923 President Calvin Coolidge was the first SOU to be broadcast on radio. In 1947 President Harry S. Truman's was the first to broadcast his SOU on television.
President Obama’s assessment or statement of the obvious was correct. His solutions were lacking and deficient. More of the truth can be found in not what was said but in what was not said. Read between the lines.
Those at the top, the “One-Percent” as they have come to be known have never done better. According to Forbes,“In 2012, U.S. non-financial companies filled their coffers with an additional $130 billion, taking their total cash to a record $1.45 trillion as the economy has stagnated and the labor market has moved sideways.”
But as the president talks about developing policies to “strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class” he’s talking about income inequality not wealth inequality.
Income inequality has to do with salary and wages. Wealth inequality has to do with assets and power. President Obama is talking about pay equity for women and raising the minimum wage not forcing corporations in American to reinvest their record profits back into America. Those two are quite different.
I realize President Obama said, “Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home”; but he’s been saying that since 2009. His 6th SOU would have been the perfect time to offer the substantive legislation to the American people to address the issue.
President Obama stated, “…because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure.” That depends on how you define “secure”. The president did allude to the fact that the nature of warfare is changing from symmetrical to asymmetrical. The days of state-based uniformed soldiers squaring off in the geographically defined battlefield are becoming passe’.
The President said, “You see, in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy.” That sounds great but what has to happen in order to truly make America safer is a fundamental change is perspective. Diplomacy from the perspective of “American Internationalism,” as former President George W. Bush called it, or what’s -in-the-best-interest-of-America is in the best interest of the world will no longer carry the day.
The President said, “So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks -– through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners -- America must move off a permanent war footing.” Really?
Does anyone actually believe that the president who has allowed John Boehner (R-OH), Eric Cantor (R-VA), and the Tea Party interests to run roughshod over him will actually take on the military industrial complex?
In the context of diplomacy, and talking about Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Africa, etc. President Obama sent the clear message of business as usual when he said, “As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.”
America has not been an unbiased arbiter in this conflict. America has sided with Israel at every turn even contradicting UN directives and violating international law. For President Obama to put this in the context of a “Jewish state” translates to the direct as well as tacit support of the construction of Israeli settlements and displacement of Palestinians.
The president is signaling ongoing American support for "a system of control" in the Israeli-occupied West Bank that includes Jewish-only settlements, the ID system, separate roads for Israeli and Palestinian citizens, Israeli military checkpoints, discriminatory marriage laws, the West Bank barrier, the use of Palestinians as cheap labor, and inequities in infrastructure.
President Obama’s support of the “Jewish state” directly contradicts former South African President Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other leaders who have equated and continue to equate Israel’s regime to Apartheid or worse, calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions.
It also tacitly supports what the Christian Science Monitor calls the deportation of more than “…60,000 Africans mostly from Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan have come to Israel fleeing harsh dictatorships, oil conflicts, and genocide. Israel must stop the inhumane deportations and unjust detention of these migrants and instead implement a comprehensive refugee policy.”
The President is correct, “Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead.” According to Bread for the World, “We live in the world's wealthiest nation. Yet 14.5 percent of U.S. households—nearly 49 million Americans, including 15.9 million children—struggle to put food on the table. In the United States, hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty.”
President Obama only mentioned poverty three times in his speech and it was always in the context of work ethic. He said, “no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.”
That’s correct but by tying poverty to a work ethic or conversely the lack thereof he is indirectly perpetuating the conservative politics of “blame the poor” for their circumstance.
As we engage in the analysis of President Obama’s 6th SOU, pay very close attention to what was said and pay closer attention to what was not said. Read between the lines for a clearer understanding of where we are headed.
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