From my view inside the White House, I saw what every other American watching the President’s speech did: true leadership.
I believe in the dream of America. I always have. So has President Obama, which is why he’s always had my support.
In his 2014 State of the Union address, he made it clear that his optimism is unwavering. Despite all the obstruction and partisanship he’s faced from day one, he still believes that our country can come together for the good of every citizen.
Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want: for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. What I believe unites the people of this nation — regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor — is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all — the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead in America.
This has been President Obama’s consistent vision, and he made great strides in his first two years in office. But since the Republicans took control of the House in 2010, it’s been an uphill battle to get anything — even the simplest of initiatives — accomplished.
That’s why the President laid down the gauntlet in this year’s address. He made it abundantly clear he’s willing to work with Congress to keep our country moving forward. But when they stall the process, the President will use Executive Actions to move our country forward.
What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I am eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.
It was a broad and sweeping speech, both calling on Congress to act and outlining steps the President already intends to take without them, like the creation of a new type of retirement plan, a savings bond called MyRA.
The President detailed plans to create greater income equality — like his call to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by passing the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013. And he’ll use his executive authority to raise the minimum wage for people working on new federal contracts for services.
The President also spoke of improving education to foster an economy of innovation, and the need to strengthen early education programs and make college more affordable for more Americans.
He addressed the urgent need to restore unemployment insurance benefits, and called it an “embarrassment” that women still make only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, bluntly criticizing workplace policies that he said seem like something out of “Mad Men.”
He addressed our foreign policy, and how we keep our country strong through diplomacy and action when needed — but only when needed. Back here at home, he talked about an energy strategy that both fosters energy independence and protects our environment.
And he underscored the importance of the Affordable Care Act, and made it very clear that he does not intend to turn his back on the millions who are already benefitting.
I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people are not interested in refighting old battles. So, again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice — tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans … The first 40 were plenty. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.
To me, that last line is the essence of the President’s 2014 State of the Union: We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.
The President’s speech was a bold one, calling Congress to the task of getting to work on behalf of the American people. His tone wasn’t aggressive or confrontational. It was decisive — the voice of a leader.
I won’t recap every word of the speech. You can watch it online. But, to me, the President drove home the three themes we were told would resonate throughout his speech: opportunity, action and optimism.
America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble, we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged. But for more than 200 years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress — to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen. The America we want for our kids — a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us — none of it is easy. But if we work together — if we summon what is best in us … with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast toward tomorrow — I know it is within our reach. Believe it.
As many of you know, I was inside the White House watching the speech with a group selected to attend and participate in a conversation with White House officials following the speech. As they answered questions posed by the live audience and submitted via social media, time and time again they echoed the President’s determination to take action — and his optimism about our future. You can see for yourself by watching it here.
I had the honor of asking a question, which had been submitted to me by Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence. I asked how White House policies would assist Detroit and other cities. Not handouts, but policy solutions.
One solution already in place is an effort to bring together existing federal programs that can bolster cities, such as those related to schools and community health centers. Not new funding, but existing resources. However, local leaders must take action to shape the cities they want for the future. The other key point was this: A stronger American economy is good for cities like Detroit. So is investment in essentials like infrastructure and manufacturing.
As the President said in his speech, “We are stronger when America fields a full team.”
The President is ready for a year of action, and he’s urging everyone — from Congress to state and local governments to individual citizens — to join him. Mr. President, I’m in.
[Photo credits: Top - Amy Lynn Smith; bottom - screen capture by Eclectablog.]