The State of the Union
THE STATE OF THE UNION: OBAMA AND THE WORLD
Obama is pushing a vision of America’s role in the world as a partner in alliances, and as a builder of those alliances and coalitions. He is a multilateralist. This is likely to be an enduring legacy of the Obama administration. Obama will move American public opinion away from the belief that American power means military power and that America’s interests are exceptional to America and realized only in opposition to other countries, and not as part of an international community. Obama may permanently get rid of the military adventurism and unilateralism that characterized the George W. Bush administration.
Obama may also finesse the segment of American opinion that is isolationist, countering it with the narrative of the economic interests America has in its global engagement. He used the State of the Unions address to announce he would launch talks on creating a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union and is completing negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership.
His address was peppered with the word alliances. “International organizations are not only the prime vehicle for promoting US and global security interests. In defense of freedom, we’ll remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia.”
“America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons…our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead and meet our obligations.” This is a far cry from the view that our ability to influence others is dependent on our ability to scare them with military threats.
On North Korea he said, “Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only further isolate them, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.” On Iran: “The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations”
Working to unite broad coalitions – multilateralism - is the most effective way not just to deal with threatening states such as North Korea or Iran but unrest and chaos in the world, as in Libya. Such a strategy can also build on openings and opportunities to move states out from poverty and repressive tyranny as the Obama administration did so successfully in Burma.
- Elizabeth Clark, Chair, Public Policy Committee
THE STATE OF THE UNION: POWERFUL DEMANDS TO CURB GUN VIOLENCE
Last night the President reminded me why I'm proud to be a progressive. I felt he really got his groove back for good this time. It's quite clear now that the President will not be expending any more energy attempting back-room deals with Republicans who don't want to negotiate. Instead, I felt vibes during the speech that progressive energy will now be truly converted into political action!
There were many highlights in last night's SOTU speech. In my opinion, however, none quite as emotional and powerful as the President's moving oratory on gun violence. He put Members of Congress on notice that he expects a vote on each gun proposal. He looked above their heads high into the visitor galleries and locked eyes with so many victims whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. Singling out victims by name while family members listened, he turned back to the Floor, declaring several times "They deserve a vote." "They deserve a simple vote." Although we don't yet know which Members were swayed, apparently the President touched many swing voters on this issue in a follow-up focus group -- giving him a 9-point gain on trust to handle gun violence. Read full memo HERE.
I am a bit concerned that expectations may have been lowered for a ban on assault weapons, as the President didn't mention them specifically by name (I don't want this issue to be taken off the table too soon like the single-payer issue was in the ACA before negotiations even began...). On the other hand, considering the low expectations for movement on the ban of assault weapons, perhaps he was wise to invoke the name of law enforcement, who he said "are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned."
In closing, it looks like the American people are "getting it." Will a sufficient number of elected representatives also get the message and ultimately act?
- Shelly Livingston, Chair, ad hoc Committee on Gun Violence Prevention
THE STATE OF THE UNION AND RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE
In his State of the Union speech Obama is proposing to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.00. Here is what he said:
“We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher."
The 2012 poverty level for a family of four is $23,050. The proposed increase will raise a family’ income to $18,720 per annum (assuming a 52 week paycheck). Although this increase will help, it will not eliminate poverty for single headed households which the majority consist of women with children. (To provide you with a shocking statistic, the “State Housing Wage” in Washington DC is $28.96 which is defined as the amount a renter household needs to earn per hour to afford a two-bedroom unit at the 2012 HUD-determined Fair Market Rent.)
However, by boosting pay in the low-wage jobs on which more families are relying than ever, a stronger minimum wage will help restore the consumer spending that powers our economy and that local businesses need in order to grow. A robust minimum wage is a key building block of sustainable economic recovery.
- Marcie Cohen, Chair, Social and Economic Justice task force
THE STATE OF THE UNION AND CLIMATE CHANGE
The good news is that the President made a strong case, as he did in his inauguration address, for why Americans should confront global warming as a serious threat, based not only on science, but on the number of extreme weather events that have taken place over the last 12 months. He pledged to take executive action of various kinds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if Congress does not act. However, he did not say how he will stand on the extension of the Keystone XL Pipeline nor did he specify whether the EPA would regulate emissions from existing power plants, which, according to reports, would have the biggest impact on America's carbon output. This remains viable option and one that might be encouraged by public pressure.
- Alice Day, Chair, Energy and Environment task force