As I sat in stunned silence watching President Obama's State of the Union address, I couldn't help but think back to the classic 1968 James Brown hit that seemed quite appropriate for the occasion. “You're like a dull knife—just ain't cutting. You're just talking loud—and saying nothing.”
For over an hour, the 44th President of the United States glossed over some of the greatest challenges facing our country in exchange for a feel-good homily that made me proud to be an American. By the end, I just felt disappointed that our leaders continue to bury their heads in the sand, while the rest of us are forced to put our heads between our legs and kiss our fiscal futures goodbye.
Now, don't get me wrong, President Obama's speech was, at times, right on point—particularly with regard to the need for our country to come together as one for the good of the whole. “We will move forward together or not all,” the president said, reminding each of the assembled legislators that sitting together and working together are two different things. Moreover, his strong emphasis on investing in education was something that should have been addressed many moons ago. Just as importantly, I agree with the president's goal of redoubling our efforts to recruit more teachers in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as treating our teachers in the fashion that they deserve.
But after that, Mr. President, you lost me (and I fear millions of others) when you failed to address the big elephants in the room, and I am not talking about the overweight members of the GOP either! Most specifically, what happened, sir, to talk about jobs, the deficit, and gun violence – all of which are foremost on the minds of “Main Street” Americans? While your proposals for investing in our nation's future were idealistic, noteworthy, and certainly worth striving toward, the immediate problems of joblessness, hopelessness and a looming deficit tsunami were left virtually untouched during your speech. There was nary a mention of the extraordinary level of violence within our society, most of it perpetuated by guns—in spite of the fact that a revered member of Congress is struggling to recuperate from an assassin's bullet. This left me, for lack of a better term, well---speechless.
As I listened intently to President Obama's State of the Union address, it felt as if a number of the president's proposals were, as my friends from Texas would say, “all hat and no cattle.” In short, there was no “there” there, particularly when it came to specificity about how he intended to pay for all those proposals —other than on the backs of the poor, through a regressive freeze in domestic spending, while at the same time escalating war spending by billions of dollars this year alone. What disappointed me the most, however, was the incessant emphasis placed on “winning the future” when countless numbers of our fellow citizens are doing all they can to “survive the present.”
During the 2008 campaign, Candidate Obama continued to remind us that the American people deserved a government that would tell them the truth. Your State of the Union Address, Mr. President, would have been one heck of a good start!
Elvin J. Dowling is the former Chief of Staff for the National Urban League. An independent who's been both a Republican and Democrat, he serves as chairman of the Destined for Greatness Foundation. He also writes at his website ArchitectOfChange.com and on Twitter.