Members of congress and distinguished guests, as I stand before you to deliver the annual state of the union address, I am keenly aware that decorum and tradition mandate a message of optimism and hope.
I will do my best.
As a proud people accustomed to confronting challenges and overcoming whatever barriers are placed in our path, we are not prepared to receive or accept any message that acknowledges the hardships we are likely to face in the years and generations ahead. We are not prepared to accept the hard reality that our government is currently designed to thwart the essential reforms that our challenges require.
Is it better to deliver a message of optimism that has no foundation in reality or to deliver a message of hardship founded in reality to inspire the groundswell of outrage that might inspire change?
When I took office one year ago I inherited two wars and a legacy of foreign policy blunders and betrayals that left our nation more hated and despised than at any other time in history. I inherited a financial crisis that had the potential to bring down the global economy and usher in a worldwide depression. I inherited an economy ever more dependent on foreign oil even as the shadow of global climate change darkens our vision of the future. I inherited a society where the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider and where the middle class as we know it is vanishing before our eyes. I inherited a health care system that fails to meet the needs of our citizens and places a burden on enterprise that cripples our ability to compete in a global economy. I inherited a political system that reduces all reforms no matter how critical to the nation’s well being to the lowest common denominator. It is a system that nullifies both the interests of the nation and the will of the people by placing undue influence in the hands of a few senators or members of congress.
I would not deliver a message of reality if I did not believe it is possible to change. If I believed there was nothing we could do to confront these challenges head on, I would herald the small changes we are able to achieve as major victories. But I do not believe that is the case. I do not believe that small measures are adequate to the challenges we face or that there is nothing we can do to confront them.
I am not the first president to be confronted with historic challenges. Some presidents have risen to the occasion while others have failed. While President John Adams failed to recognize the dangers of a weak federal government, incapable of meeting the needs of the people, Thomas Jefferson rose to the challenge. Where Presidents Fillmore and Pierce failed to heed the warnings of civil war, President Lincoln rose to the challenge and (like hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians) paid with his life. Where Presidents Cleveland and McKinley failed to address the rising power of industrial monopolies, Theodore Roosevelt answered the call. Where President Hoover failed to accept government’s responsibility to the people in the grips of a Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt embraced the challenge with the New Deal.
Like those presidents before me, I can defer to partisan politics, continuing to blame my predecessor and the party of opposition for all the problems that plague us, or I can take responsibility and fight for what needs to be done.
My fellow Americans, I stand before you today to testify that the state of the union in January of the year 2010 is precarious. I rise to give warning that if we do not find a way to respond effectively we will pay a price that future generations will continue to pay for as long as these eyes can see.
The challenges we face are every bit as historic as those of Jefferson, Lincoln or Roosevelt and yet our government as it presently operates is incapable of responding in kind. From the day of my inauguration the minority party has determined to oppose every measure, every reform and every initiative that I propose. No matter how detrimental to the welfare of the nation, no matter what compromises I proposed or concessions I granted, they are determined to block every effort and they have found the means to do so not in the constitution, not in the laws of government, but in the archaic rules of the United States Senate.
Because of their efforts, marching in unison to the same beat of Just Say No, they have blocked passage of a health care reform package that included more Republican ideas than Democratic. Because of their efforts, the chances of meaningful financial reforms, jobs and green technology initiatives, middle class tax relief, trade policy reform and other critical initiatives are in jeopardy.
The instrument of this obstructionism is the senatorial filibuster rule. Not a law. Not even a regulation. A rule of conduct, decorum, and a common courtesy intended to protect the dignity of the Senate. The difficulty is they overreached.
As a professor of constitutional law I am in a unique position to determine with absolute certainty that the Senatorial Filibuster rule, as it presently operates, is a violation of the United States Constitution in that it grants the minority of the Senate powers not provided under the provisions of that hallowed document.
The filibuster is such a flagrant violation of the balance of power not even this Supreme Court could uphold it.
I am therefore authorizing the president of the senate, Vice President Joe Biden, to issue a finding of unconstitutionality. I expect the majority party to uphold the finding.
We will then move immediately to abolish or significantly curtail the power of the filibuster so that the government of the world’s greatest democracy will no longer be held hostage by a handful of senators. No longer will a minority of forty-two senators be granted the authority to nullify the will of the majority and the needs of the people. No longer will a minority stand in the path of progress in the nation’s hour of need. No longer will the government of the United States of America be paralyzed.
Once the filibuster is out of the way we can pass health care reform that is clear, simple and easy to understand. We can pass financial reforms to insure that brokers and bankers can no longer game the system until it breaks and pass the buck to the taxpayers. We can pass a jobs bill that puts people back to work.
Now I understand that there are other barriers that senators can use to block the workings of government. I am here to serve warning that any senator who stands for the decorum of the senate over the will of the people and the needs of the nation will do so at their own peril. That is a battle we will fight and we will win.
There is of course another barrier to a functioning democracy that has arisen only recently. It is not some scheme hatched by terrorists in a foreign land but the threat is no less menacing and no less repugnant to the republic. Sadly, it is the workings of our own Supreme Court.
In its recent decision to grant unlimited corporate funding in political campaigns, reversing a century of precedent, the court’s ruling takes its place alongside Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson and Bush v. Gore among the worst decisions in the history of the nation’s highest court. The implications of this decision cannot be overstated. If Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission is allowed to stand then American democracy is itself in danger.
Just imagine what would happen if congress passed legislation allowing the safe importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other nations. The pharmaceutical industry could target two dozen members of congress and selected senators with literally millions of dollars dedicated to their defeat. Imagine the chilling effect. It would run from every statehouse in the land through both houses of congress and down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Oval Office. How many votes would change the next time that bill came to the floor?
We would no longer be a government for the people, by the people and of the people. We would be a government for the corporations, by the corporations and of the corporations. And yes, there is a word for that and it is not democracy.
That is not an America I wish to see. Not on my watch!
As loyal Americans who believe in the principles of democracy we cannot avoid this fight. No matter what the odds, no matter how many obstacles are place in our path, we must do everything in our power to reverse this decision and stop this assault on our fundamental freedoms before it does irreparable harm.
We will do what we can within the workings of government but a decision of this magnitude by the nation’s highest court can only truly be nullified by a constitutional amendment. I have therefore instructed the Attorney General to draft such an amendment and begin the arduous task of pushing it through congress to be ratified by the states.
I implore you as Americans, as we go through this long but essential process, to watch and take note. Those who oppose it stand with the corporations and those who support it stand with the people. Remember that when millions of dollars are sent to defeat your congressperson or your senator for simply doing the people’s business.
One does not know when one is elected president the challenges he or she may face. John Kennedy could not have known that the Soviet Union would attempt to place nuclear missiles off America’s shore. Roosevelt could not have known that Europe’s war would inevitably become America’s war.
We cannot always choose the challenges we will face but history will judge us by how we respond. Because we are on the right side of history, because we stand with justice and democracy, because we know the stakes and because the people stand beside us, we will fight and we will prevail.