OK….first of all the above Help Wanted ad is only in jest; the LAST THING we need is a new President—REALLY! I’m not an expert (as if you couldn’t tell) but I am an American citizen who follows the news carefully through newspapers, television (ABC, NBC,CBS, CNN, and FOX), magazines, and the Internet. I really make an effort to be well-informed–like so many others of you out there. Yet one of the greatest problems in this country is the number of citizens who simply refuse to become well-informed by any measure whatsoever. Either they watch/listen to only one station and hear only one viewpoint, or they simply tune out and do not spend any real time making an effort to really understand the issues. Millions and millions of Americans did not bother to watch the President last night. Instead they watched programs on other networks or dealt with other real or perceived priorities–playing cards, doing household chores, completing homework, visiting their favorite bar, catching up on some overdue sleep, playing with the children, working out at the gym, chatting on Facebook, playing video games, and any other of a hundred other activities–some important, some not-so-important. News Flash: It is incumbant upon those who live in a democracy–those who live in what many of us firmly believe is the greatest democracy in the world–it is incumbant upon every one of its citizens to become and remain well-informed. And that requires work–real effort and time on all of our parts.
Of those who actually watched the President’s 80-minute address, some did so with an open mind, intending to give our President a chance to explain what he would do in the second and succeeding years of his term. Others, unfortunately, viewed the program with the most jaundiced of eyes. They have already vehemently (and sometimes viciously) turned against our President–feeling that if he has not turned our country around in the grand total of 12 months, then he no longer deserves our support. This outrageous opinion comes despite the fact that he inherited what many have called the worst recession since the Great Depression, two agonizing and expensive wars, a nearly double-digit unemployment rate, and a citizenry who seems to be conditioned to television’s 60-minute instant solution to complicated problems–a citizenry that seems to have totally forgotten that it took even the most successful of Presidents in the past (see Reagan, Clinton, Roosevelt, etc.) nearly a full term or MORE to really begin to solve our Nation’s economic and other problems.
The afternoon before the speech, when asked by CNN correspondents what they most wanted to hear from their President in his State of the Union address, average Americans of all political stripes, stated overwhelmingly that they wanted to hear the President speak about jobs and the economy. And so he did. Addressing the intertwined problems of unemployment and the economy occupied the major portion of his speech.
I watched the President’s address in its entirety, and here is my analysis. Under very difficult circumstances for our nation, he delivered a superb speech–perhaps the best State of the Union Address I have ever heard in my 59 years! While he tried to give a realistic picture of the terrible situation our country was in when he took office, he also noted that “the worst of the storm has passed” because of actions his administration had taken–including the absolutely necessary bailout of the banks.
As accomplishments in his first year he pointed out that his administration had “extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans, made health insurance 65% cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA, and passes 25 different tax cuts.” With regard to those tax cuts, he insisted, ” that we cut taxes for 95% of working families, for small businesses, for first-time homeowners, for parents trying to care for their children, for 8 million Americans paying for college. “As a result,” he stated, “millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers.” And, he quickly added, “we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person.” He gave many examples of the success of the much-maligned Stimulus Bill or Recovery Act, but in summary, he said that “Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. 200,000 work in construction and clean energy. 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, and first responders” He noted that the Adminstration is on track to add another one and a half million jobs by the end of the year.
Yet he did not pretend that we are totally out of the woods. He noted that “One in ten Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have been shuttered. Home values have declined, Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. For those who have already know poverty, life has become that much harder.” He went on the state that “This recession has also compounded the burdens that America’s families have been dealing with for decades–the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.”
So nearly all of you would agree with our President that these are the problems he must confront—he has a duty to confront–head-on–in this next one to two years. How does he propose to confront and solve these problems. Here is his plan—NOT filled with details, because an 80-minute speech does not allow and is not intended to provide details. Those details will come as specific proposals are advanced in the days to come. Yet the address did provide some broadly stroked proposals in key areas to significantly improve the daily lives of the people of our nation. In brief, here are those proposals:
1. A fee on the “biggest banks” to recover the rest of the money we lent to them (Most has already been recovered).
2. A new jobs bill, starting with small businesses–taking 30 billion dollars of the money Wall Street banks have already repaid and using it to help “community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.”
3. A new small business tax credit to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages.
4. Elimination of all capital gains taxes on small business investment and a tax incentive for all businesses tha invest in new plants and equipment.
5. Putting Americans to work building the infrastructure of tomorrow–highways, railroads, clean energy facilities, home energy rebates.
6 Slashing tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and awarding tax breaks to those companies that create jobs in the U.S.
7. Serious financial reform–protecting our economy by providing for a strong, healthy financial market that “makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs” and which “channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes.”
8. Encouragement of American innovation–clean energy, safe nuclear power, new offshore areas for oil and gas development, advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies, and a comprehensive energy and climate bill.
9. Doubling our exports over the next five years, and increase that will support 2 million American jobs by launching a “National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls…”
10. Seeking new markets for our goods by strengthening trade relations in Asia and South America.
11. Investing in the skills and education of our people by investing in educational reform which rewards only success–reform which raises student achievement. This involves expanding these reforms to all fifty states so that “the success of our children ” depends more on their potential as opposed to simply where they happen to live.
12. A bill that would revitalize our community colleges. Ending “unwarranted” taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans and using that money to give families a $10,000 dollar tax credit for four years of college. Increasing the Pell Grants which many of us relied on in the past to help fund our college educations. A new requirement that would allow a million college graduates to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt to be forgiven in 20 years (and in 10 years if they go into public service.
13. A task force on Middle-Class Families. Nearly doubling the child care tax credit. A plan to give every worker “access to a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg.”
14. Stepping ups refinancing of homes so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages (noting that steps last year allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1500 on mortgage payments.
15. Health care reform which gives coverage to millions of Americans who have been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, preventative care in all plans, protection of Americans from the worst practices of the insurance industries, and the opportunity for small businesses and uninsured Americans to have the chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. These would be plans that would preserve the right of all Americans who currently have insurance to keep their doctor and their current plan. And very importantly, it would reduce skyrocketing costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses.
16. A plan to freeze government spending for three years (except for spending relating to national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. This freeze would go into effect in one year, after our economy improves.
17. The establishment of a bipartisan Fiscal Commission which would provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.
18. To increase trust in government, a requirement that lobbyists disclose each contact they make “on behalf of a client with my Adminstration or Congress.”
19. The establishment of strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Here, the President actually took a daring swipe at the Supreme Court that just voted to “reverse a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests–including foreign corporations–to spend without limit in our elections.
20. Earmark reform on all these pet projects (aka “pork”) that find their way into unrelated bills. The establishment of a website that would post all earmark requests BEFORE a vote is taken on those requests so that “the American people can see how [and why] their money is being spent.”
21. Renewing focus on “terrorists who threaten our nation.” Continued investments in homeland security.
22. Increasing troops and training Afghan Security Forces so that “they can begin to take the lead in 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.”
23. Removing all of our combat troops from Iraq by August of this year.
24. Commitment to support men and women in uniform and veterans when they come home; building a 21st century VA and a commitment (headed by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden) to support military families
25. New initiatives, sanctions, and negotiations to reduce nuclear weapons around the world.
26 Providing world leadership in helping other counties with problems in climate change, HIV/AIDS, fighting bio-terrorism and infectious disease, and other problems.
27. The prosecution of civil right violations and employment discrimination and strengthening laws dealing with civil right violations and employment discrimination; repealing the don’t ask, don’t tell law in the military.
Now, admittedly, this is a very ambitious agenda–but it is the agenda on which this President was overwhelmingly elected. It is an agenda that he HAS made some progress on (as noted above) although we all wish that the progress could come more quickly and more easily. The focus, however, is where the Americans wish it to be–on jobs and the economy.
Let me conclude with the point on which I began: Let us give this President–OUR President–a real chance to succeed–not just 12 months. As you might guess, I didn’t vote for Bush, or Nixon, or even Reagan, but I did give each of those Presidents my respect AND a full 36-42 months to make good on their promises and to make some real inroads in turning our country around in what I felt was a positive direction. The idea of a 4-year Presidency is to give that President a term to really make progress on his agenda–even if it is not the agenda of the candidate that you would have preferred to occupy the office. President Obama is President of ALL Americans. As conservative Republican actor and activist John Wayne once said when referring to President Kennedy, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my President. I hope he does a good job.”
That’s what I would request of each of you. Give our President a chance to do the work for which he was overwhelmingly elected. Have the patience with his Administration and the respect for the Office and the Individual that true Americans have always given their President. Stop the name-calling, the insults, the profanity, the exaggerations, the refusal to even consider other points of view. Educate yourselves on the issues and stay educated. Let the best of your instincts and your intellect show themselves on talk shows, editorials, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Internet forums. Let us try to work as one country–as one People–in solving the multitude of problems we face and making our country all it can truly be.