Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rock On... President Obama's State of the Union Address

Not even three months ago, President Barack Obama's political prestige was in dire straits. People began salivating over the November 2010 elections as an omen for 2012, though I find it suprising no one drowned in their own drool. But then, the unthinkable happened: he didn't cower. Instead, he and the lameduck 111th Congres signed several new pieces of legislation, which included a passing of continued tax cuts and unemployment benefits, the repealment of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and the New START treaty to reduce the number of nuclear arms in both the U.S. and Russia (among others). What had transpired leading up to last night's State of the Union address is nothing short of remarkable. After all, no president has been under more scrutiny than Obama. No president has been mocked during his tenure greater than Obama. No president has been subjected to more bigoted vitriol than Obama. To have him come back the way he did is an inherent quality of a true leader. And last night, President Obama capitalized on the momentum by delivering a rousing, bipartisan speech that should make any American feel proud to have him as our leader. As such, here are a "Pick Six" of premises I felt were noteworthy from last night's address.

1. Keep Innovation Domestic
The United States of America is known as a nation founded and revolutionized by foreigners. Now, it's a different breed of foreigners stealing our thunder. (And I'm not talking about illegal aliens.) When we began importing jobs and technological advancements overseas, countries like China and India were quick to seize control because they knew that's where the future would lie. Not labor, not entertainment, and certainly not in politics. They're smart like that, unlike us, who tend to have everything handed out on a silver platter not knowing how a particular contraption works. That is not to say that we're a nation full of ignoramuses, but we like to ship our greatest talents and ideas out into the world, as if we really are too dumb to figure it out for ourselves. C'mon, y'all, we are the land of Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford. This is a country that still rewards hard work and determination. And as long as our people are willing to put in that hard work and determination to better our society, we should never let them go and prove to other developing countries that we've still got some integrity and pride in our home-grown innovations.

2. Embrace Newer Forms of Energy
It would surprise me none if oil as energy goes the way of the dodo bird in a few decades, especially considering that renewable energy is the way of the future. Various forms of alternative energy are cleaner, more efficient, and produce less waste into our environment, unlike – say – the mess BP leaked last summer into the Gulf of Mexico. We'll never run out of sun, wind, or water, but oil is a limited resource. Plus, our addiction to oil is what's allowing us to be dragged on a leash by several Middle Eastern countries who, like China and India, know that the best way to keep a country in check is to house a main source of their business. They've got what we "want", yet we're too near-sighted to see far ahead that that desire will leave us completely dependent on other nations making decisions for us. Let's make clean energy work for us.

3. Give Teachers Extra Credit
Without an educated society, a country cannot prosper. Teachers are the unsung heroes of this country; while athletes and actors and politicians grab all the attention and spotlight, we frequently forget who planted the seeds to make them all blossom into the people they are today. The problem we have is that the teaching profession is too much work and too much stress for too little income. The retention rate for new teachers after five years is barely over fifty percent. It's a difficult position to stay in long-term, but the promise of having made a difference in the lives of students brings the ultimate satisfaction. I can turn to no other person who best resembles this ideal than my own mother, who is an elementary school teacher. She did not get into this profession for the money, and that was probably the last thing she thought of when she made her career choice. In order to best handle this growing dilemma of ours, we need to enhance the quality of our instructors who feel children are more than just names and performances on standardized tests. It's this current mindset we must reward, for the sake of our future.

4. Freeze Spending to Keep Debt from Boiling Over
President Obama's latest proposal last night was that he wants a freeze on domestic spending for the next five years, which he claims will cut our deficit by more than $400 billion within a decade. This is following two years of his administration passing, among other things, a $787 billion bailout and a $938 billion health care reform bill. He's invested so much money just into fixing our current mess, it's hard to know when all this will pay off – if ever. But let's make this clear: President Obama was not in the Oval Office when the housing market bubble burst and the stock market crashed. Had he not done what he did in a situation he had no control over, this country would be in a state of despair that would make Greece or Ireland look peachy. The old adage, "You got to spend money to make money," was certainly in play back then. But now, the tide has turned. We're more than halfway through Obama's (first) tenure as president, and the American people want results, not rhetoric. Make the necessary incisions to this country if you must, Mr. President. Now's the time to walk your talk if you want a prayer's chance at reelection next November. Just make sure the knife doesn't slip from your hand.

5. The Top 2% Need to Pay Their Dues
Growing up as children, we were told that it didn't matter if you were black or white or tan or yellow. But as we hit adulthood, the one maxim that essentially runs our lives is the idea that the only color that matters is green, and that you can never have too much of it. For about 95% of American individuals, they must not have a lot of it because that many people make less than six figures on an annual basis. Another 3% make between $100,000 to $250,000, the latter of which is the cutoff for no additional tax hikes. So, who could possibly be the other 2%? Well, they're the CEOs, the athletes, the celebrities, etc. To them, $250,000 is hardly a dent in their bank accounts. Heck, most commonfolk probably don't see that much money exchange hands in any year. President Obama acknowledged that "It's not a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting America's success." If some people can comfortably live with even a fraction of what the richest individuals make, then the top 2% certainly shouldn't complain about paying the feds just a little extra. You grow up. Money isn't everything, and it isn't the only thing, too.

6. Never Stop Making Progress
A stagnant nation is a sitting duck. We cannot afford to rely on yesterday's ideas to drive tomorrow's ambitions, literally and figuratively. As the president said near the end of his address, "America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That's how we win the future." Change is never an easy thing to undergo, but it's all for the betterment of our people. Forward-thinking individuals have led to advanced electronic devices that fit in the palm of one's hands, safer cars, and more efficient medications, among others. What we do with all of them is up to us: we can use them constructively or let them envelop our lives and leave us feeling entitled to have things people in other parts of the world can only imagine it's existence. But we shan't lose faith if we are to return more prosperous than ever before. That's been President Obama's m.o. since day one, and it will continue to resonate in the minds of opportunistic Americans like a school's alma mater. Remember, this is still the USA, not the USSA.

Now, whether or not he follows through with his vision for this country and succeeds is still up in the air. Personally, I like him and bade him buona fortuna. The rest of my friends... don't. They call him (among other things) a "fraud", a "con artist", and even an "idiot" they can't wait to kick out of office. Yeah, because nothing says "idiot" like graduating with a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School – magna cum laude. If that's true, then I'm on my way to becoming a pinhead. (In reality, I'm not enamored with him, nor do I agree with the vast majority of his policies, but I commend him for his tenacity to bridge gaps between our divisive nation.) Just remember, this address is called the State of the Union for a reason. We thrive as a nation, and we'll suffer as a nation, no matter who's living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. America has spent the bulk of the last decade getting Bush-whacked, so now it's time for us to learn our lessons and support the leader of the most powerful free nation in the world, if not already. It's the least we can do.

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