In his State of the Union address on Feb. 12, President Barack Obama urged Congress to look past party lines to push the nation further on the road to recovery. Obama started his speech by invoking one of American politics’ most iconic figures: “Fifty-one years ago,” said the President, “John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that ‘the constitution makes us not rivals for power, but partners for progress.’”
The President then began by reflecting on the progress of the nation, but warned Congress that there is still much more work to be done. “Together,” began Obama, “we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence, that the state of our union is stronger.”
The President cited the return of soldiers, growing stock and housing markets and six million new jobs as recent steps forward in our nation’s recovery from near economic collapse. Yet he quickly began to address unresolved issues, namely looming budget cuts. If Congress does not agree on a fiscal deal by the first of March, automatic across-the-board cuts will be made to, among other things, federal aid to states and defense spending. Obama warned that these cuts would be “devastating” and would “slow our recovery.” There has been heated debate regarding these budget cuts, but Obama took time to disagree with one specific solution that had been suggested.
“Some in Congress proposed preventing only the Defense cuts, by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training, Medicare and Social Security,” he said, pausing before continuing on: “That idea is even worse.”
“Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit,” the President said. “We can get this done,” he added, a phrase that he would echo throughout the night. Obama went on to propose internal improvements such as raising the federal minimum wage, and increasing access to education for all Americans, from preschoolers to college students. Obama also took some time to reiterate his stance on climate change, saying pointedly, “I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change . . . But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”
Obama also took time to address the U.S.’s standing in the international realm, firmly stating that “America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom in this period of historic change.” He was also firm on the issue of the war in Afghanistan, announcing that over the next year, 34,000 soldiers will be returning home, with a full draw-down finishing by the end of next year.
Nearing the end of his address, Obama turned his attention to gun control – the most-debated issue across the nation since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. With added emotion in his voice, Obama pleaded with Congress to vote on measures such as background checks and laws on the reselling of guns to criminals.
“In the two months since Newtown”, said Obama, “more than a thousand birthdays, graduations and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.” Citing former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the families of Newtown and Aurora, Obama said that, whether it is a yes or a no, “They deserve a vote.”
Obama concluded his speech by reminding Congress that they needed to “follow the examples of Americans who look out for each other everyday without fanfare.” He turned the audience’s attention to various guests in the audience, such as Menchu Sanchez, a nurse who saved the lives of twenty newborn children during Hurricane Sandy; he praised Desiline Victor, a 102 year old woman who stood in line to vote for six hours; and he thanked Brian Murphy, the first responder to the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August. Murphy was shot twelve times and, when asked why he protected the Americans worshipping inside, explained, “That’s just the way we’re made.”
Obama tied these stories together, attempting to unite the often divided parties. “As Americans,” said the President, “We all share the same proud title. We are citizens.”