Barack Obama pushes for paid sick leave, a minimum wage increase, equal pay for women and free community college among others

State of the Union 2015In his State of the Union address, President Obama touted a slow but steady economic recovery. He also discussed further plans for the remainder of his administration. The speech touched on a broad range of issues from the minimum wage the ongoing battle against the Islamic State in the middle east.

The president’s comments came amid a shifting political environment. In the lead up to the 2014 midterm congressional elections, many Democrats in Washington had sought to distance themselves from President Obama in the press. This type of behavior is nothing new, and is, in fact, a cyclical phenomenon present in the US political machine.

When viewed in terms of long-term cycles, it is clear that the system is set, for better or worse, on a long-term course for change. In the interests of effectively directing that change toward innovative and uplifting solutions, we must understand where we were in the past. Then with a firm foundation, we may move forward into the future assuredly.

I. The State of the Union

President Obama, in the introduction to his speech, seemed to take a curious satisfaction in stating emphatically that, “The state of the union is strong.” The United States has been on a roller coaster ride, both economically and politically, over the last fifteen years. “At this moment,” he said, “with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production — we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.”

Tax reform has been a constant battle for the administration so far. The president renewed his pledge to attempt leveling the economic playing field for the working classes. We must seek to guarantee, he said, that, “everyone plays by the same rules.”

Inevitably, numerous ideas are on the table, however, a few seem to be the most realizable in the near term. The first would consist in providing greater tax refunds to the working classes. President Obama also specifically mentioned provisions allowing tax breaks on a per child, per year basis for those individuals and families that may need them.

Education was also on the night’s docket. The president, discussing the immense importance that child-rearing plays in the national economic schematic, called childcare a, “national economic priority.”

The president also mentioned the creation of additional opportunities for care. Their implementation would, theoretically, ease some of the childcare burden from stretched, working class households.

Free community college sounds quite wonderful. Indeed, it may just become a reality if the administration gets its way. The president made it clear that he would like to see just this type of system implemented. Obama also highlighted the need for increased avenues of relief for those paralyzed by student loan debt.

Labor played a central part in the address. The president suggested several measures aimed at uplifting the state of the working classes. These include paid leave laws in states across the country as well as maternity and sick leave. With respect to this effort, Obama said, “It’s the right thing to do.” Legislation aimed at guaranteeing equality between the sexes in the workplace with respect to earnings was also clearly on the table for implementation.

The president stressed the need for increased access to overtime for lower income workers as well as potentially lower mortgage premiums. In addition to this he renewed his call to raise the minimum wage. As stated in the address, legislators must support laws that, “strengthen rather than weaken unions.”

Ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was a core objective of the Obama campaign. In his speech, the president was able to announce a formal end to the war in Afghanistan. The United States ended its combat role there late in 2014. With newer possible wars on the horizon it will be crucial to maintain balance in foreign policy decisions, especially when they are made with respect to unpredictable and relatively unstable militant jihadist organizations like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

President Obama specifically cited the contributions of the so-called 9/11 generation in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He said, simply, that, “we are humbled and grateful for your service.” This statement came, paradoxically, almost simultaneously authorization request for use of force against the Islamic State.

The president also urged supporters, as well as citizens around the country, to get involved in re-building. An essential part of this, Obama stated, is a, “bi-partisan,” infrastructure plan that will put people back to work. This plan will also begin to repair the U.S. highway system and its electrical grids.

II. The Long Term Perspective

There were, predictably, some criticisms from the right that arose almost immediately after its conclusion. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) came out swinging, with a stern declaration that the State of the Union was, in fact, a fundamental marker of political change. He said that it is now time to, “move beyond” the Obama Administration. Cruz went on to criticize the administration’s foreign policy in the middle east. He suggested that, “We cannot win a war on radical Islamic terrorism with a president unwilling to even say the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’.”

Looking ahead a decade, even two or three, one can see that the scope of future change is narrowed by a horizon provided by the system of the present. To that end one can conclude that, to put it simply, there is an upper limit to the amount of change that can be implemented within any particular period.

It seems as if, at least at present, the American economy is recovering. Low gas prices have helped significantly to grease the wheels of business efficiency. As time moves forward, however, it will be important to watch closely the international commodity balance, especially with respect to essential, strategic resources.

President Obama echoed some of the same concerns on the topic of oil. Despite this, relentlessly positive tone pervaded in his speech. This indicates an attitude of cautious optimism on the part of the administration.

Several concerns will be central over the next two decades. The entitlements situation is one of these problems. Fixing this system will require a bi-partisan and determined effort aimed at sustainable growth.

With respect to labor it is clear that the situation varies greatly on a state-by-state basis. A substantial increase in the minimum wage would be beneficial to many low income earners. This would allow for increased stability within the working classes. Furthermore, a system of sustained, stable growth today can lay the foundation for a thriving future middle class.

The international situation is troubling. Certainly, there are threats across the globe to the safety and security of all human beings. There are priorities, however. First and foremost, the U.S. Navy will remain responsible for ensuring the free movement of international trade on the high seas. This is completely essential, and one could argue that most other variables draw their strength from this.

The threat posed by the Islamic State must, at the present moment, take an important, but second place. Currently, many interested powers exist in the region. There is also not a clear, emerging set of alliances. The United States seeks to make its presence felt militarily in the region once again. The Obama administration and possibly even the succeeding administration must successfully navigate this treacherous path.

Third, the threat posed by Russia, in its continued stoking of revolt within the sovereign borders of Ukraine, must continue to be an object of scrutiny. Going into next summer, it is very possible that things could escalate once again within the territory. The way that the United States and NATO powers choose to respond will be essential to maintaining global peace and stability

Education reform must happen and it must happen very soon. President Obama’s words on the topic were very encouraging and point to increased, positive efforts at aiding a generation of students in debt.

Looking ahead to the 2016 presidential election, and far beyond, one can judge (with some degree of error) what issues will become most pressing in the years to come. Many of these issues were touched on by the president. His enthusiasm indicates that although political partisanship may obscure all sincere efforts at change, meaningful legislation makes it through every once in awhile. Victory comes through unity. To that end, it must be the rallying cry of all progressives to, “make it happen!”

Leave a Comment