State of the Union: What I needed to hear


I felt great after the Jan. 27 State of the Union address.

Maybe it was because I rode the stationary bike at the gym while I watched President Barack Obama speak, but I don’t think it’s that simple, especially since I hate going to the gym.

No, it was because that speech is exactly what I needed to hear. I needed someone to take both sides of the Congressional aisle to task for filibustering each other into political impotency. I needed someone to recognize that an entire generation shouldn’t be bankrupted because they decided to go to college. I needed someone to reassure me, someone who’s been rejected twice for private health insurance, that the fight would not end after one deflected bill. I needed someone to bring my friends home from Iraq and Afghanistan, or at least present a plan to do so, and to keep them from going back for second and third tours. I needed to hear a president call out the Supreme Court justices for overturning a campaign finance law that puts our already-broken system completely in the hands of corporations, both domestic and foreign. And I needed to hear that there’s a plan and that at least one Washington lawmaker is committed to changing the status quo.

But when the dust had settled and I came home, everyone else seemed to be pissed. I got a text message from a friend saying, “Obama makes everything sound peachy, doesn’t he?” (Incidentally, this friend lives in a mansion in Los Feliz, Calif. How life couldn’t be peachy for him, I’m not sure.) My Facebook feed exploded with disappointment that Obama didn’t say anything about same-sex marriage, about animal rights, about abortion. Republican lawmakers disseminated press releases bashing the speech. Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman diminished the 90-minute speech to nothing more than a campaign ad, writing, “The re-election campaign of President Obama began this evening. Battered by the wholesale rejection of his domestic policy agenda last Tuesday, the president has shifted into 2012 mode.”

Really? That’s all this elected official got out of the speech? Well, that’s exactly the bullshit partisanship deafness that’s making this country increasingly fragmented and weak. To take the chance to bash the administration for what was said — or not said — is exactly what Obama warned Congress about. Our president addressed this ugly characteristic directly (which makes me wonder if Rep. Coffman even bothered to listen to the speech or instead spent the time rolling his eyes like a petulant teenager, happy that the speech wouldn’t interfere with the season premiere of Lost).

Obama said, “But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We can’t wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side — a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. … It’s precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it’s sowing further division among our citizens, further distrust in our government.”

Coffman’s seemingly offhanded press release reinforced to me that the aforementioned politics are alive and well and damaging our faith in the American system of government.

Obama couldn’t say everything. He can’t be everything to everyone. To insert causes simply to mention them without providing concrete plans for implementing change would not only be disingenuous, but irresponsible. Obama stuck to the “big” problems. He reinforced his
commitments to lowering unemployment, providing affordable health care
to all of this nation’s citizens, ending both campaigns in the Middle
East and making the United States a world leader in clean and
sustainable energy. He tied all of these into a cohesive,
middle-of-the-road national policy that the average American could
understand and cling to when the only things we’re clinging to lately
are final notices and pink slips.

If you listened to the speech — really listened
— instead of merely waiting to jump on the misattribution of a quote
pulled from the “Bill of Rights” rather than the “Constitution,” then
you would have heard that not all of the government is against us.
Although these promises are just promises, they’re a starting point for
change and are worth fighting for. But if you are content to sit back
and complain about how fancy rhetoric isn’t going to solve your
problems, or how Obama isn’t doing anything for you, then you are part
of the problem. We need to put aside this attitude of “not my
president,” because everyone benefits when the government passes
legislation building jobs and making health insurance a possibility for
all. We (both Democrats and Republicans) have elected impotent,
partisan officials who would rather kill legislation on principle — the
principle of protecting their party’s reputation — rather than the
principle of serving the best interests of their constituency. We need
to stop making economic recovery and health insurance about the loss of
“American family” values. Family values aren’t going to matter if your
family can’t get medical care or find jobs. If you didn’t like what
Obama proposed, then get out there and work to change it. The old adage
remains true — if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the
problem. To quote Obama, “If anyone from either party has a better
approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover
the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance
company abuses, let me know. Let me know.”

Saia Isaac is working on her master’s degree in media studies at the
University of Colorado at Boulder. Her hometown of Allentown, Pa., was
namedropped during Obama’s speech, prompting an outburst of excitement
in CU’s otherwise quiet Student Recreation Center.