Since the president delivered his State of the Union address last night, talking heads have already spent a good deal of time analyzing its impact on his prospects for re-election. But they missed the point of the speech. The address is an opportunity for the president to redirect the national agenda. It’s an opportunity for the American people to reconnect with what they see as a disconnected and do-nothing Congress. It’s an opportunity for the president to restore citizens’ belief in the possibility of America.
That’s exactly what we saw last night. And that’s exactly what we need.
As President Obama said, we need to bring jobs back to the United States and stop encouraging corporations to ship jobs abroad. We need to spur public investment to restore our infrastructure and technology economy. Most important, we need to be serious about the fact that regulation in itself is not a business killer but that, when implemented effectively, it protects workers and businesses and develops the trust needed for trade.
Last night the president showed again, as he did in Osawatomie, Kan. in December, that he will not tolerate the partisan gridlock that has held our nation’s future hostage and denied opportunities to hardworking Americans. His administration will start immediately implementing needed policies for clean energy production that conservative brinkmanship has made nearly impossible. If Congress continues to fail to act, the president will step in.
But in spite of the gridlock and in the midst of growing frustration towards opportunity inequality, Americans are better equipped to take on the challenges of our new economy than they were when President Obama took office. Since that day three years ago, we’ve seen the addition of 3 million jobs to the economy and the growth of new clean energy jobs in place of those lost to the recession. We can do more of this; it’ll just require us to move beyond the kind of winner-take-all politics that have come to characterize Washington in recent years.
I am not blind to the politics behind the speech, or to the chorus of voices wishing to replace that of President Obama at the rostrum of next year’s address.
The president drew a hard line on the Republican field’s empty rhetoric on taxation and the economy and revealed Republicans’ position for what it is: an outgrowth of selfish politics and moneyed interests playing in political campaigns. No one truly believes that an expiration of the Bush tax cuts will rob capitalists of an incentive to do business and send the American economy careening into a ditch. No one seriously holds the assertion that a fair tax system that doesn’t rob our middle class of its welfare will induce a Eurozone-style financial crisis. The economy can be and will be better, but only if Republicans in Congress and around the country admit these truths.
Our politics today values compelling stories and misleading narratives over leadership in the face of hard realities. Judging from Congress’s approval ratings, the American people are over it. We want strong and honest leadership, and that’s what we’re going to get from the president in the year to come.
President Obama’s speech last night did not point out the Republicans’ failings so much as it extended an olive branch. As he said in the address, “This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great.” Republicans in Congress and running for office should take note: the nation is waiting for you to get on board. More than your political futures depends on it.
Zak Newman is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College and president of the Yale College Democrats and the College Democrats of Connecticut. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.