Reflecting on Obama’s State of the Union speech

On Jan. 20, 2009, President Obama announced a “new era of responsibility.” It is unfounded and impetuous for anyone to conclude that the past two years have been a letdown for the American people. It is easy for us to acknowledge the failed policies of the eight year Bush administration, and to sweep them under the carpet without recognizing the implications they have had on the current administration. It is even easier to discount success and highlight failure.  No President since the time of FDR has dealt with such conflict and responsibility, and handled it with the ability worthy of the title of Commander-in-Chief.

By January of 2009, GDP had fallen at the fastest rate in a quarter-century. Seven hundred thousand jobs were being lost each month. According to the budget summary for FYI 2011, the financial crisis of 2008 had let $5,000,000,000,000.00 of Americans’ households’ wealth disappear in 3 months as stock values plummeted.This led to record foreclosure rates and declining home values.

Obama’s most pressing problem is that he has to alleviate the minds of the American people who are misled daily by the bold-faced lies of those in power.

The GOP wanted to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans in order to allow the top wage earners to reinvest their money in the economy. While Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Dream Act were being “held hostage” by the GOP in December, Obama extended his hand in an act of bipartisanship and sacrificed his political clout. He called for the extension of tax cuts for the 2 percent of wealthiest Americans for the good of the other 98 percent who were about to lose enormous funds for programs in health care, education, and small business growth. According to the National Employment Law Project, 2.25 million Americans would have continued to struggle to put food on the table without the extension.

The Congressional Budget Office states that repealing the health care law would worsen the federal deficit over the next 10 years, by $230 billion. Yet, the House Republican leadership misrepresents this CBO report which actually says that the amount of labor used in the economy will decrease by a small amount because of (and here’s the important part) people retiring and cutting back their own hours. The GOP insists that the bill would cut 1.6 million jobs, but falsely cites an employer mandate that is not actually in the bill. This is often misconstrued because Speaker Boehner claims he wants to remove barriers to job growth, as cited in the Pledge to America taken by the GOP. However, how can this be done with a “job-killing bill,” that actually perpetuates the very thing it claims to be against?

So how does President Obama contend to the inaccuracies of the messaging of the GOP, the precarious support of his base who still want more progressive policies, and the weary American public? With a State of the Union speech.

To assuage the fears of those concerned with the national deficit, Obama proposed a five-year freeze on all discretionary spending. While many Republicans are underwhelmed by this proposal, it is imperative to remember that cutting more would effect our quest to be internationally competitive. We must acknowledge Obama’s proposals in the major cuts in defense spending, the enforcement of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the abolition of earmarks, and the proposed elimination of billions of taxpayer money given to oil companies. Defense cuts alone will save $400 billion over the next decade. All of these reign in the costs of government spending while holding Congress accountable.

Although I do care about the deficit, I care more about the competitiveness of the United States and the jobs that will be created upon the rise of US productivity. In 2010 alone, there was a rise of 10.5 percent in exports of goods and services. Obama is proposing a tax credit for companies that undertake research and has set a goal that 80 percent of the nation’s electricity will come from clean energy sources by 2035. In order to attain anything near that goal, we will  need educated engineers. With a lack of able engineers to work in this new field, we must provide incentives toward educating all of those held back by the rising cost of education.

If we can focus on the President’s call to innovation in education, clean energy, and transportation infrastructure, our economy would not only be stable-it would be booming.

The Republican response to the State of the Union, given by Rep. Paul Ryan, focused on reigning in spending, but offered no plans to create jobs. Instead of putting the money where his mouth is, he touts the “symbolic” call for repeal of health care reform (which won’t pass in the Senate), while millions in tax payers’ money are being wasted for every hour spent in meaningless debate on repealing the health care bill.

Considering this, the President must walk the fine line of pleasing his base and pleasing the party of “no.” As he does, we must weigh the benefits and costs of the polarized philosophies of Democrats and Republicans. Is it best to reign in the costs of sizable but necessary spending at the cost of our innovation? Could the ambitious propositions in energy policy and education re-establish our position as the world superpower and put Americans back to work? I leave these questions for you to decide.