By JT Haines — January 23, 2015
For many, the President’s State of the Union address this year was a bit of a feel good romp. (“Where has this been for 6 years?” and etc.) Some have argued that, to the degree this year’s SOTU was improved, it has more to do with political calculations than Obama himself, but that said, he did offer more in this address than any SOTU I can remember, with a couple of potshots at the troglodytes to boot. Let’s take a look at some of what the address did, and didn’t include.
Here are three of the better excerpts:
Money: “To everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”
War: “The question is not whether America leads in the world, but how. When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military – then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world.”
Climate: “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does – 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century…The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.” (emphasis mine)
The President of the United States saying these things out loud is a progress of sorts to be recognized. A full transcript of the address is available at NPR.
Not surprisingly, the address also glossed over some pretty key facts and context. Here are a few of the more important facts that I believe were not properly represented in the address:
Incarceration. With 2.2 million people in jail, the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate. (Highest!) [Harvard Mag] Incarcerated drug offenders are up 1200% since 1980, and 75% of prisoners locked up on drug-related charges are African-American. In his book “Blowing the Roof Off the 21st Century,” Robert W. McChesney makes a compelling case that these developments are due in significant part to economic forces, including the increasing privatization of prisons. This is plainly immoral, and key information to include when one is boasting about crime rates. #NotInSOTU.
Military Spending. The US spends more on the military than the next 10 countries combined [NBC], outlays which are increasingly privatized. We have military bases and operations all over the globe. We are an empire. #NotInSOTU
Planet. We have lost half of our wildlife on this planet in just 40 years due to human exploitation and habitat degradation, threatening all life on this planet. [World Wildlife Fund] This unbelievable and urgent development, tied directly to our economic system, was #NotInSOTU. Not remotely.
These are just a few examples of crucial topics I did not hear honestly addressed in the SOTU. We also heard very little if anything about drone killings, infringements on civil liberties, police brutality, and the absolute urgency and reasonability of the demands of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. (For more of what wasn’t in the address, check out Seattle City Council Person Kshama Sawant’s “Socialist Response to the State of the Union” and Ralph Nader’s “Swings and Misses“.)
There was value in the President’s 2015 SOTU, and we should both appreciate his inclusion of certain matters as well as demand action to accompany the words. Obviously, even in the best of times with the best of intentions, it would be impossible and perhaps even unwise for the President to take up all subjects of concern during the State of the Union address.
We must also, though, have our eyes wide open. A mere two days after Obama declared ”The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong,” the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and its 17 nobel laureates moved the Doomsday Clock 2 minutes closer to midnight, citing climate change and nuclear proliferation. [CNN] That clock now sits at 11:57.
I wonder if those guys were watching the same speech we were.