In the opening remarks of his State of the Union Address, President Obama proudly declared, “America, for all that we have endured; for all of the grit and hard work required to come back; for all of the tasks that lie ahead, know this: the shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.” Proclaiming that we are “freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth,” he insisted that “it is now up to us to choose who we want to be for the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.” Consequently, this year’s State of the Union address broke away from the tradition of announcing a “checklist of proposals.” Instead, the President expressed the importance of concentrating on the “values at stake in the choices before us.”
During the hour that followed, President Obama delivered one of the strongest State of the Union addresses in modern history and renewed many of the fundamental pledges of the Democratic Party. Highlighting a range of issues, from the student debt crisis crippling average people on Main Street to the rampant predatory behavior of millionaires on Wall Street, President Obama affirmed his commitment to eradicating economic inequality in America. “The verdict is clear: middle-class economics works…Let’s do more to restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American.” Outlining proposals that would create tax benefits for increased child care assistance, ensure paid sick leave and mandate that corporations compensate their employees with living wages, President Obama laid out a strategy that protects our working class and revives our middle class in ways that were last matched only by President Johnson’s “war on poverty” under the “Great Society” initiative over fifty years ago.
As a Democrat, I felt that President Obama’s State of the Union Address reinforced my faith in both him as the leader of the free world and the principles of the Democratic Party. However, as I watched the reactions of the Republican majority throughout the House Chamber, any of my hopes for good governance in the near future were quickly overcome by the grim reality of our inevitable legislative agenda for the next two years. For while the state of our Union is strong, the state of our Congress is depressing.
When, in a reconciliatory gesture to Republicans, President Obama pointed out that he had no more campaigns to run, Republicans snidely cheered. As Democrats rose in support of President Obama’s initiative to make community college free and accessible, Republicans sat sneering with their arms crossed. Even when the President had the audacity to say that women should earn the same pay as men for equal work, the Speaker of the House rolled his eyes in disgust. In their alternative reality, Republicans neither share President Obama’s vision for the future, nor are they willing to work with him to achieve progress.
Looking back on a debate during the 2012 presidential race, President Obama asserted that “Republicans have embraced the foreign policy of the 1980s, the social policies of the 1950s, and the economic policies of the 1920s.” When we have a political party that not only remains determined to return America to the past, but also controls both chambers of Congress, how can anyone possibly expect progress in the near future? My prediction is that over the next two years, Congress will churn out an assembly line of backward policies hinged upon the Republican Party’s outdated principles, while President Obama will suffer a series of painful hand cramps from all of the vetoes he will be issuing.
Yet while Republicans will most likely block many of the President’s proposals and while Democrats remain pessimistic about the realistic expectations of the near future, this State of the Union Address unquestionably accomplished at least one thing.
It reaffirmed a progressive agenda that, even in the face of fierce opposition in the short-term, will inevitably deliver on its promise of progress in the long-term. Significant–much less any–change probably won’t come in the next two years. Yet, as President Obama said in a speech on March 18, 2008, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” As long as Democrats remain committed to the principles outlined by President Obama in this State of the Union address, opportunities for every American to prosper will continue to grow for generations to come. In the words of the late Ted Kennedy, “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives on, and the dream shall never die.”
Connell is a member of
the class of 2015.