Thursday, January 20, 2011

Expectations for the State of the Union

Barack Obama is set to speak to the nation this coming Tuesday when he delivers his State of the Union address to Congress. Though not required to be given in speech form, the president must deliver an examination to Congress every year on the condition our nation is currently in, as per Article 2 Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution.

Past presidents have used this opportunity to reinvigorate their administration's projects, although the practice of delivering a speech to Congress was discontinued after Thomas Jefferson became president. It wasn't until 1913 when Woodrow Wilson reintroduced the speech-format of the State of the Union address that it became common practice for a president to present it to Congress himself (though presidents as late as Jimmy Carter have also delivered their State of the Union in text rather than speech form). Following the speech, many presidents hit the road, pitching their ideas they touched on in their words to the nation in a more intimate, local setting. President Obama will be coming to Wisconsin to do just that the day after his speech.

Personally, I'd love to see the president focus on certain things, touting his accomplishments but also bringing up the important subject of bipartisanship. For as much as I criticize the conservative coalition of lawmakers in this country, the fact of the matter is that laws can't get passed anymore without their approval. The bitterness left after the previous Congressional term must be set aside, and the discourse must be settled in order to forge out some important bonds on key issues facing the nation.

But the president mustn't forget that he's in office for a reason: it was his liberal platforms, his idealization of what this country could accomplish, that brought many voters, young and old alike, to the polls in 2008. The president must address this coalition of Americans who came together in support of his campaign, who may now feel a bit abandoned by his acquiescence to many conservative demands during the previous two years.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the inaugural speech of John F. Kennedy, who requested from Americans sacrifice and service when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." The passing of Sargent Shriver this week, brother-in-law to Kennedy and the first director of the Peace Corps (and advocate of many other programs designed to promote service), also reminds us of the importance of community service everyday Americans should consider taking part in to support the towns, villages, states, and nation they call their own. The dedication towards a better society, one in which people look out for one another because of a common sense of decency, should be renewed in Obama's speech next week.

Obama should tout the fact that jobless rates are going down, that less Americans asked for aide this week than the week before, a trend that has been building for several months now. Though unemployment still remains at levels unacceptable to the American people, the fact that we're headed on the right path and aren't moving backwards should vindicate the various programs that the Obama administration has established, including the economic stimulus package that he signed into law early on in his presidency.

Health reform should also be promoted in his State of the Union. At this time last year, children with pre-existing conditions and health concerns could be denied coverage from their provider based on that fact alone; today, that practice has been abolished. Young adults, many of whom are having troubles finding employment that supplies them with their own insurance, couldn't do anything about it one year ago today; but now, they're allowed to stay on their parents' insurance plans until they reach the age of 26. In the coming years, more reforms to health care will come about, including the complete eradication of the denial of health coverage to every American on the basis of their health care history as well as tax subsidies to help the poor and middle-class to afford insurance on their own, if need be.

Obama should state, in a plain and clear way, why the law that was passed will help the American people, and why attempts by the Republican Party to repeal its passage is the wrong road to take. He should also emphasize that more Americans would rather the health care law stay in place or do more than it currently does than would like to see it repealed.

Finally, the president should close with a renewed call for civility, for a chance of working with his opposition rather than against them. Conservative politicians and Obama might not always agree on fundamentals, but the American people demand many things from their lawmakers, including a discourse that is spirited but not violent; fair but not ambivalent; and most of all, moving our country forward and not backward.

Pundits will likely be judging Obama on how well he can sell his policies along with how cooperative his rhetoric will be towards the GOP opposition that never really gave him a chance in the first place. If he can explain his policies in terms of how many Americans support them -- and they do, overwhelmingly, support the initiatives he has set forth -- he can move forward with added political capital, and use that to influence his conservative opposition in the weeks, perhaps months, to come.

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