We are lucky to live in a day and age where we are able to see and listen to our president more than ever before. On Jan. 20, President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union Address, outlining his goals for his final two years in office. Despite his noble intentions, his vision has little to do with practicality and all to do with politics and the ever-expanding size of the federal government.
President Obama chose to begin his speech by declaring the end of the War in Afghanistan. By any reasonable definition, the U.S. “combat mission” in Afghanistan is not over. While campaigning for reelection in 2012, President Obama promised to end this war in 2014, and the “end” was celebrated in a ceremony on December 28, 2014. Time will tell whether this arbitrary adherence to a political deadline will end in collapse. With the growing threat from ISIS and the recent escalation of terror in Europe, President Obama’s dreams of American forces permanently leaving the Middle East seem improbable.
His reaction to the terror attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo was widely criticized by those who believed he did not stand firmly enough by the side of the terror targets. In this speech, we can lend our support to President Obama, who asserted his intention to both “stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists” and “reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims.” It is important to denounce terror while making a distinction between Muslims and jihadists, which is what President Obama has tried to do.
With the 2016 presidential election looming around the corner, President Obama attempted to credit Democrats with economic improvement, declaring that the economy is restored and that the “shadow of the crisis has passed.” While, by some measures the economy is certainly improving, we still have a long way to go. It is true that unemployment has decreased, but so has the labor force participation rate, which is at its lowest since 1978. This is partially due to retirement, but also because discouraged workers have simply given up trying to find a job. This also does not consider those who have settled for underemployment out of necessity. The crucial element that this speech blatantly omits is that regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, it is business and trade that develop the economy, not government.
It was remarkable that President Obama chose not to acknowledge that the American people had just elected a Republican majority in both houses of Congress. Many people viewed this adjustment as a renewed American preference for smaller government, yet several of his proposals continue to indicate his ideal of a gargantuan, invasive federal government. The problem is not with the sentiment but rather with the inevitable unintended consequences and failure to address of the root of the challenges we seek to defeat.
President Obama enumerated several ideals for an expanded or new role for the federal government. He once again favors a dramatic increase in the federal minimum wage, which is not only economically unsound but unjust. This is not a place for interference by the federal government, as the cost of living is non-uniform throughout the United States. Additionally, if our goal is to alleviate poverty, it is unreasonable to once again place the onus on businesses who already contribute heavily to social welfare. On a similar note, the newest idea of “free” community college does not address the real problem after two years, less than half of students who start community college graduate or transfer to a four-year institution. Those who face a financial barrier to achieving higher education will not be helped by this policy due to the present existence of need-based financial aid. Once again, if there is any role here for government, it is better addressed at a state level.
One notion addressed by President Obama that surely everyone can support was his call for better politics, appealing to our “basic decency instead of our basest fears.” When juxtaposed with his veto threats and recent egregious executive overreaching, this was slightly ironic, but it is notable nonetheless. To find our way to the best possible answers to our problems, it is vital to embrace debate and remember that regardless of political affiliation, we all share the same desire for an ever more prosperous and free America.
Garvey is a member of
the class of 2016.