The State of the Union speech has become a well-scripted event full of nice words but few ideas that will really benefit the public. This sad situation results from our political system being corrupted by big money. This corruption almost guarantees that the public interest will be trumped by the interest of the rich and powerful.
To change this sorry state of affairs, it would take a courageous leader who was willing to put the interests of the country over the interests of a few. If there were such a leader, the speech could then be used to rally the American people behind this leader’s vision. However, we haven’t had a peoples’ champion as president in a very long time. This situation is due to a political system that pretty well ensures the nominees of both major parties have been vetted by the rich and powerful. Even if there were a candidate not acceptable to those pulling the strings, the corporate-dominated media would work to marginalize or destroy the candidate’s campaign.
Thus it is not shocking President Obama’s State of the Union address offered few if any proposals that threatened the interests of the rich and powerful. In reality, Obama, as is his custom, offered few specifics on most of his ideas or vision. This lack of specifics allowed viewers to put their own interpretation on his words. As a result, the speech resonated with many.
However, for me, the speech was more an attempt to assure the American people that the state of the union is not really that bad and, in fact, it is pretty darn good and will continue to improve. In essence, Obama led a big pep rally claiming over and over that the U.S. is number one. Thus no major policy changes are required. Perhaps providing this assurance is his role as President under our plutocracy.
Some key missing items
The things that were left unsaid in the speech were perhaps more important than what Obama actually said. One of the most pressing problems facing the world today is global climate change and Obama didn’t directly mention this issue. He did focus on innovation in clean energy technology, but the impact of this effort will be far too little and much too late. The situation is already dire and it was not discussed. Perhaps Obama felt that it was useless due to staunch Republican opposition, but he missed an opportunity to educate the U.S. public on the topic.
Obama did not seem to recognize the ongoing suffering due to the Great Recession. In fact, he said that the worse of the recession is over and that we should now focus on the debt. He did not propose a new jobs program nor provide a strategy for dealing with the millions of foreclosures. He did indicate that new jobs would come from innovation in clean energy, from new trade agreements, and from a redoubling of efforts to rebuild the infrastructure, but there was no overall plan or effort. The previous plans on jobs and foreclosures that were implemented were too small in magnitude and voluntary in nature. Obama also failed to address the enormous budgetary problems facing the states and the implications for increased job losses and loss of homes as well as for more cuts to the Swiss cheese safety net.
There was no recognition of the connection between the U.S. attacks on and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq with the U.S. debt crisis. The costs of these war crimes are: 1) trillions of dollars; 2) the devastation and destruction of two nations and peoples; and 3) the alienation of much of the world from America. The U.S. image, contrary to Obama’s claim, has not been restored. In addition, Obama did not address the Palestinian/Israeli situation. The continued U.S. support for Israel shows our hypocritical opposition to human rights and international law. This position is clearly recognized by nations around the world and further harms our reputation. This blatant hypocrisy also weakens our position on Iran’s legal program to develop nuclear energy.
Given the U.S. plutocracy, it was not surprising that Obama did not suggest implementing a highly progressive income tax, similar to that during the Eisenhower. He could have also proposed a fee on all speculative financial transactions. The cap on contributions to Social Security could be removed and unearned income could also be taxed for Social Security and Medicare purposes. Obama could have also proposed legalization and taxation of marijuana as another way of raising funds. These are just a few of many ideas that would show that the U.S. was serious about its budget deficit and long-term debt but, somehow, they were not raised.
Unless and until we implement major reforms to our political and economic systems, the U.S. will continue its downward slide and will likely take the rest of the world with it.