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Your Speech was a Missed Opportunity, Mr. President

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - 07:50 AM

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.

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Comments [4]

Nick from Newest Jersey

Hey Schweizer, you are right on! I don't think that guy was a college professor though. He seemed too, um...dumb. Either that or maybe he was a professor that taught something that had nothing to do with politics or history or English. Anyway, I am kind of torn about the whole speech. I am getting nervous that Obama is getting in bed with the bad boys (GE and big business) but I was real happy when he said he wanted to 86 tax loopholes for Oil companies. Boehner didn't seem to like that very much! Anyway, I don't really know what to say to everyone complaining that he didn't say anything about jobs. He did. He said a lot. He can't go around to companies and tell them to hire people. He can't hire people on the government's dime either, because they cannot fund it. The only thing he can do is try to help out business through the tax code and hope that consumer confidence continues to increase. Good luck...

Jan. 26 2011 06:53 PM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Sorry, Elvin, I don't think that you grasp the magnitude of the problem...

Jobs - In broad sweeps, the recession is over. Stock prices have recovered, Fortune 500 profits are back on track. Jobs are still in a sh*thole. When Corporate America decides it can make even more money by hiring, it will do so. Until then, they don't need to hire 'cause they are doing fine. The expansion of the government's direct role in hiring - Peace Corp, WPA, etc. - will have to wait for a double dip - god forbid - which may happen as state budget spending contracts and housing prices continue to fall.

The deficit football is only important to the party that is out of power - since the GOP took a budget that was in balance and drove it into deficit with tax cuts, wars and growth in entitlements. How serious are deficits to be taken if nobody pays attention to them until they aren't the ones holding the strings? The compromise to extend the Bush Tax cuts put serious talk about the deficit to bed for a while. The theft from the American treasury by the upper 1% will continue.

Gun Control - Given the latest Supreme Court decisions there can be no substantive action on restricting gun rights in America without an amendment to the Constitution! The best chance to have an amendment pass Congress will be when Gabbie Giffords comes back to the House and asks for it. Are you ready to call for a convention to repair the Constitution? Be prepared for additional convention issues - women's rights, gay marriage, citizenship through birth, House size and apportionment. AND be prepared to win on only half of the changes.

Jan. 26 2011 11:10 AM
r. Zach from switzerland

Poor America!
A college professor does not know the difference between investment and expenditure and a congressman who does not remember Enron, Lehman Brothers and insists on liberty!
The state of civil discourse in the USA is dismal. No expenditure in people today (ie investment in education) will create a deficit in productivity.
Business can improve its performance and government can't?
Poor America!

Jan. 26 2011 10:40 AM

Correct, Mr. Dowling - a very nice post.

All flash, no cash. All chrome, no guts.

He just listed everything that he has not proposed, budgeted, or delivered in the past 2 years & which his "trusted advisors" are not likely to propose.

He still doesn't get it: JOBS, JOBS, JOBS - now - We can't wait until "tomorrow."

Jan. 26 2011 10:13 AM

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