President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech last Tuesday night, just several hours after the Senate passed his Violence Against Women Act, was obviously meant to both serve as a template for the ambitious aims his administration plans for the United States over the next four years, as well as a reminder that he plans to address these issues unilaterally if necessary. Gone was the Obama of 2009 who spent his first two years fruitlessly attempting to forge some alliances with the GOP in Washington, until the realization set in both with him and everyone else paying attention that Washington's disgruntled conservative wing, led by Senate head Mitch O'Connell and House Speaker John Boehner, really DID plan to do everything in their power to make him a "one-term president", regardless of the toll this would take on America and its people.
Fortunately the electorate spoke loud and clear last November with Obama's reelection. But in the runup to Obama's speech it seems little has changed with the Republicans in D.C. At Tuesday morning's press conference Boehner, to the surprise of almost everyone in attendance, intoned ominously that the president "doesn't have the guts...to take on the liberal side of his own party...never has", referring to the national debt and deficit. Boehner's inflammatory diatribe, obviously throwing down the gauntlet in anticipation of the evening's event, was later postscripted by Boehner appearing during much of Obama's speech like he was battling an especially-painful toothache.
Obama's address served to outline his second-term plans, and most would have to admit that there was plenty for both sides of the aisle to like (and dislike). Touching on comprehensive immigration reform, the president called on Congress to both increase border patrols (which he already had done in 2009), as well as begin clearing a pathway for many of the 10-11 million illegal immigrants already here to attain citizenship. Requirements for this will include those eligible to be gainfully employed, pay taxes and learn the English language. And Obama received a very surprising assist from an unlikely source last Sunday as Kentucky senator Rand Paul during a wide-ranging interview voiced his support of assimilation for the existing immigrant population, as long as patrols are tightened to prevent the number from increasing. If Paul can convince some of his Tea Party pols to come over to his side, Obama may actually have some welcome GOP assistance on this hot topic going forward.
A bipartisan standing ovation followed as Obama announced the expected drawdown of 34,000 American troops from Afghanistan this year, marking a significant drop in our participation in the 13-year war. Our troops will go into "support/training mode" there in the spring, marking the opening step that will fulfill another promise the president made during his first term, as ostensibly (and hopefully) both wars he inherited will be history by the end of 2014.
Initiatives tied to education were broached as well, as the president proposed making high school curricula more employment-specific, meaning that students upon graduation would be trained and ready to begin entry-level positions in their chosen fields. This has been made necessary in recent years by what he called "the demands of a high-tech economy", and would sharply cut the learning curve for our young generations entering the workforce. Obama also proposed allocating funds to provide pre-school education for all of our youngsters, in an attempt to have them all on a level playing field before they enter first grade. Finally Obama addressed his intent to cut certain federal funds from colleges that don't show a willingness to become more affordable, pointing up the problems faced by students and their families by the spiraling costs of our universities.
Gun control was (inevitably) touched on effectively and movingly, as the president spoke before a backdrop of many in the audience wearing green ribbons memorializing the Sandy Hook school in the wake of December's massacre, as well as Gabby Giffords, her husband and shooting victim Hadiya Pendleton's mother being in attendance. Skirting the assault weapon ban issue, Obama instead concentrated on his call for federal background checks on all gun sales, an initiative that all polls of Americans encompassing both gun owners and abstainers are overwhelming in favor of since the Newtown tragedy (a YAHOO poll last week had an amazing 92% in favor of checks).
It seems virtually everyone in America save for NRA Executive vice-president Wayne Lapierre favors this rational, common-sense approach, and with Obama taking his case successfully on the road last week after his address it appears that this snowballing legislation may soon become the law of the land. This segment ended with Obama impassionedly naming off many of the latest high-profile gun-savaged locations of the past few years : “The families of Newtown deserve a vote! The families of Aurora deserve a vote! The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote!” If Republican NRA adherents are really listening to their constituents instead of their anticipated PAC handouts, they'll join their Democrat compatriots and pass this legislation that will make it harder for the wrong guys to acquire firearms.
Other topics touched on by the president included raising the federal minimum wage to $9.00 by 2015 (it's remained at $7.25 since 2009), renewing our standing with Israel in the face of the continued unrest in the Middle East, announcing the Trans-Atlantic Trade Partnership with the European Union, touting our creation of over 500,000 manufacturing jobs on our shores in the past three years, and finally threatening executive action unless Congress comes up with some viable plans re: combating climate change (13 of the past 15 years have been earth's hottest since records have been kept, and last year was America's ALL-TIME hottest).
Barack Obama's speech was given high marks by analyst Bob Schieffer during his post remarks, which served as a counterpoint to thirsty Florida senator Marco Rubio's predictably partisan GOP rebuttal that followed. Obviously, as with all State of the Union addresses, some presidential proposals will turn out to be non-starters due both to economic impracticability, as well as by what looks like four more years of staunch opposition by a GOP in Washington that hasn't even proved supportive of many conservative-friendly measures. But a number of initiatives, including the immigration assimilation, weapon purchase background checks, finishing up in Afghanistan, a new homeowner-friendly house refinance bill as well as corporate green energy and global warming incentives all stand a good chance of passing in time. An aggressive agenda to be sure, and the Washingtonian fur is already flying as the second four-year Tong War has begun.