Barack Obama, President Obama — January 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Some thoughts on President Obama’s State of the Union Address


I can haz inspiration?

The classic response we hear from Obama-haters after he gives any speech is, “Yeah, he gives a great speech but…” And, surely, last night was a great speech. It was more than a great speech, it was an inspirational speech. Never before has a national politician spoken so openly and plainly about the unfairness in our economic system. This speech went beyond populism; it asked us to engage our brains and look at things from a common sense standpoint.

Which, of course, why Obama-haters (a) didn’t hear the same speech as the rest of us and (b) didn’t understand the concepts President Obama was talking about.

In order for a concept to become firmly lodged in the national dialog, it needs to be repeated over and over again. The discussion about fairness in our economic system began in earnest with the Occupy movement. You couldn’t listen to the State of the Union address last night without hearing resounding echoes of the Occupy message: that the system is rigged for the super-wealthy at the expense of the middle and lower classes. For that, we owe them a big debt of gratitude.

Now President Obama has taken up the charge and is repeating this message at every opportunity. In interviews. On the campaign trail. And last night during his State of the Union address.

When it comes to the deficit, we’ve already agreed to more than $2 trillion in cuts and savings. But we need to do more, and that means making choices. Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else – like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.

The American people know what the right choice is. So do I. As I told the Speaker this summer, I’m prepared to make more reforms that rein in the long term costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and strengthen Social Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors.

But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes. Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right: Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires. In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions. On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up. You’re the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. You’re the ones who need relief.

Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.

We don’t begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it. When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich. It’s because they understand that when I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference – like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through school; or a family trying to make ends meet. That’s not right. Americans know it’s not right. They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to their country’s future, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility. That’s how we’ll reduce our deficit. That’s an America built to last.

I recognize that people watching tonight have differing views about taxes and debt; energy and health care. But no matter what party they belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right now: Nothing will get done this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken.

Can you blame them for feeling a little cynical?

The greatest blow to confidence in our economy last year didn’t come from events beyond our control. It came from a debate in Washington over whether the United States would pay its bills or not. Who benefited from that fiasco?

I’ve talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. But the divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad – and it seems to get worse every year.

Some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics. So together, let’s take some steps to fix that. Send me a bill that bans insider trading by Members of Congress, and I will sign it tomorrow. Let’s limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries they impact. Let’s make sure people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice versa – an idea that has bipartisan support, at least outside of Washington.

I realized last night that I have become rather cynical without really realizing it, something that bothers me. While I listened to President Obama, instead of my normal response (“Wow, this is a REALLY great speech!”), my response was, “Yeah, yeah. This is a really great speech. But I have yet to hear anything that the Republicans will support or that House Speaker John Boehner will even allow to come to a vote or that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t filibuster.”

It would be easy to just shrug and move on, accepting that Republicans will do whatever they can to defeat the president, even if it harms the country and goes against the greater good of the country.

But, it didn’t take long for his inspirational words to work their magic on me again. After a while, I got fired up. I got ready to go. I became inspired to do whatever I can to get Barack Obama reelected, to fill the House of Representatives with good, progressive Democrats, to make sure we hold onto the Senate and improve our numbers there and, most importantly for me these days as a Michigander, to turn around our own state and make it blue once again.

Yeah, yeah, it was a great speech but what will we do with it? What will YOU do with it? What we should do with it is let it inspire us to help with the effort. I know I will and I hope you will, too.

You can get started RIGHT HERE.

Oh, and one final thing: what the hell is wrong with a great speech? When did that become a bad thing? Sheesh.

Photos by Anne C. Savage. Please do not use without permission.

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