U.S.A. President Barack Obama addressed the United States of America last week regarding the current state of the nation. As always America was “strong,” demonstrating a phoenix-like recovery from the Great Recession.
He took the dais in the House of Representatives, speaking about a myriad of topics including the burgeoning economy, crippling infrastructure, space, and the internet. The President celebrated the end of the war in Afghanistan and the 10 million additional Americans insured because of his Affordable Healthcare Act.
Despite the lack of elections this year, President Obama did not espouse idealism but unveiled a concrete plan to close his legacy. His strategy focused on alleviating middle-class families through educational, healthcare, familial, infrastructural, and technological improvements.
Spearheading his plan is lowering the cost of community college to $0. In 2014, President Obama lamented, “we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need.” He took inspiration from Tennessee and Chicago, both showing “free community college is possible.”
Obama thanked Vice President Biden for his initiative connecting community colleges with local employers to “train workers to fill high-paying jobs.” That night, he challenged other businesses to follow companies such as CVS and UPS to offer “more educational benefits and paid internships” to community college students.
Following community college cost, President Obama sympathized with new middle-class mothers and fathers. “In today’s economy,” he said, “when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever.” He emphasized this issue must not be treated simply as a women’s issue but as a “national economic priority.”
His solution, therefore, is a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year. In addition, Obama promised “the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave” because “it’s the right thing to do.”
The strategy also includes a New Precision Medicare Initiative to cure cancer and diabetes, an effort to promote net neutrality, a stonewalling of the Keystone pipeline, and cutting carbon pollution. According to the President 2000-2014 have been the warmest recorded years, with 2014 being the warmest.
One of President Obama’s most important proclamations last Tuesday night was his request to Congress authorizing the use of force against ISIL. He championed America’s steps to build international coalitions in Africa and the Middle East instead of acting unilaterally like the previous administration.
The United States Constitution requires the President to annually address, from “time to time”, the conditions of the country either in writing or in person to Congress. In January or February, Senators and representatives congregate in the House of Representatives chamber where the Sargent-At-Arms introduces the commander-in-chief.
One member of the President’s cabinet, however, does not attend the State of the Union address should catastrophe strike the congregation. According to the U.S. Constitution, the absent Cabinet secretary will take charge of the country if the President, Vice President, and all attending cabinet members are harmed.
In custom, there is an ‘opposition response’ performed by the party not represented in the executive branch. This year, as well as for the past six years, the Republican Party conducted the ‘opposition response’. This year, Iowan Senator Joni Ernst gave the opposition speech immediately succeeding the state of the union.
She gave a very clinical speech about the economic downturn and congressional dysfunction, evoking a pastoral middle America with her personal anecdotes about growing up poor in Iowa. “As a young girl,” she remembered, “I plowed the fields of our family farm” and “worked construction with my dad.”
Ernst sympathized with the middle-class’s growing agitation of a perceived low input-output ratio, recognizing many families’ fear of having “less and less” to show for their increasingly difficult struggles. Stagnant wages, lost jobs, and an allusion to the perceived failures of the Affordable Healthcare Act were part of the laundry list of causes.
Her solution to the middle-class’s economic woes includes passing the Keystone jobs bill, simplifying the tax code, repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act, and correcting executive outreach. For Ernst, balancing the budget did not mean higher taxes but less spending.
Ernst agreed with President Obama on three issues. The first issue was confronting ISIL and radicalized Islamist terrorists around the world. The second issue was preventing future cyber attacks. The third issue was confronting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and staving its creation of an atomic bomb.
Since the opposition response was taped before the state of the union, Ernst could not tackle specific problems in the address itself. However, in the wake of the speech, many voices trumpeted concerns with the speech’s messages and omissions.
Even among the President’s own supports, many believed he missed several golden opportunities to introduce necessary discussion and enact substantial reform.
Just minutes after the state of the union address, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) castigated the President for failing to address the needs of veterans. In the wake of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) scandal last summer, they expected more from the President about rebuilding trust between the government and service members.
“Particularly disappointing,” the group condemned, “was the President’s failure to affirm his administration’s support for urgent passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act.” This bipartisan legislation increased access for veterans to quality mental healthcare to curb the high suicide rate among the population.
According to IAVA CEO and Founder Peter Rieckhoff 242,000 veterans are still waiting to get the benefits they earned, and this next year, even more servicemen will need assistance after returning from the war in Afghanistan. The VA is the only service these soldiers have, and it is still in shambles. “Tonight, the Commander-in-Chief once again thanked our veterans and service members,” Rieckhoff said, “however, actions speak louder than words.”
The second castigation from the President’s side was his failure to capitalize on the Ferguson and New York murders and open a discussion about race relations in America. Zeeshan Aleem of .Mic lamented Obama’s two “references to the crisis of racialized policy brutality” were discussed “in the colorless language of bland conciliation.”
Obama referenced the two famous instances of policy brutality in 2014 in a clinical and non-partisan fashion. “We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York,” he said, “but surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed” and “Surely, we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door.”
“The agenda to impose symmetry on the relationship between the policy and the youth they harass,” said Aleem, “they’re incomparable.” The incarceration rate for young men of color is unparalleled in history, according to prominent legal scholars like Michele Alexander.
Ultimately, this state of the union address was impressive and successful. It was the first time a President mentioned LGBTQ and issues regarding the community, and an app such as Instagram. It did not center on abstract and inoffensive issues, but outlined a direct strategy Obama sees as concluding his presidential legacy.