During the course of this essay I will discuss President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union Address. I will focus on critiquing his discussion of the economy, the labor market and his hopes for the future. The essay will also focus on Obama’s incessant need to look to the future as opposed to discussing current problems happening today.
President Obama’s “State of the Union Address” from Jan. 25, 2011
President Obama opened his Address to Congress by discussing the recent assassination attempt on the life of Congresswoman, Gabriella Gifford. His focus for discussing this event was to suggest that whilst the last couple of years have been difficult, they have all been fighting for their beliefs which he stated, is “what a robust democracy demands.” However, with both parties (Republicans and Democrats) in power, these fights have perhaps run deeper than Obama chooses to let on. He goes on to say that if the events if Tucson, Arizona taught us anything, it’s that we are all greater than individual political belief or party and that we are part of “the American family.” By opening his Address with a direct discussion of recent events that some may perceive as a small minority of the American people voicing their disagreement over certain policies, he is acknowledging an event that may divide opinion and using it to unify everyone regardless of their belief, political persuasion or opinion. Immediately, Obama makes it clear that his words are meant for everyone and not just those who support him. However, he does not discuss gun control during the address and so, his referral to this event suggest that it is not so much a cause for concern, as it is an opportunity to utilise it as tool of unity.
Obama then chooses to discuss the economy and the current financial state of America. His choice is an obvious one as it is the big question on everybody’s mind, whether they are American or foreign. He opens on a positive note by saying that corporate profits are up, the stock market has come “roaring” back and the economy is growing again. He then goes on to discuss that despite these things, the true measure of progress is the quality of life and success experienced by the American people. These are two conflicting views: on the one hand, the economy is improving but on the other, there’s the implication that the American people are still not recovering, but Obama phrases it in a way that makes it sound like their prosperity is the priority. He swiftly acknowledges that the American people want them to focus on helping small businesses to not only survive but to thrive and grow, and to enable Americans to provide better lives for their children.
The phrase “that is the project that the American people want us to work on” suggests that this isn’t the project they have been working on. Reading between the lines, Obama has focused his administration on the economy of the country with a focus on corporate America rather than its people. The President then details how the tax cuts made in December 2010 mean that worker’s pay is a tiny bit increased, and how each business can write off the costs of investments made this year. Both of these things mean more for the American people and the American economy and Obama is keen to emphasize that the growth of the economy will also add to the million private sector jobs which were created in 2010. However, trying to find a simple statistic concerning exactly how many Americans are currently unemployed, is a difficult task and as such, a million jobs is out of context and could, therefore, by a needle in the burgeoning haystack.
The comparison is struck with how China and India educate their children (“harder and longer and with more emphasis on math and science.”) and Obama discusses how “the rules have changed in the middle of the game” for the average American worker. He goes on to say that more students choose to study in America than any other country in the world. However, he does not discuss where these students go once they have finished studying and he does not answer the question of how that affects the economy or the job market for Americans. Instead, he discusses how the ‘American Dream’ requires there to be some struggle and sacrifice made by every generation in order to meet the demands of a new age. He goes on to say that we need to “out-education, out-innovate and out-build the rest of the world.” This all sounds great for the children and current students but he seems to have forgotten about the steel mill workers who earlier he said wanted jobs in mills where previously, 1000 workers would be needed whereas now there are only 100 jobs. Obama does not address the 900 workers who are potentially unemployed. His entire focus seems to be on “winning the future” rather than what is happening today. A lot of his sentences begin with “We have to…” rather than discussing “We are doing…’. “In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives, it is how we make our living” is a quote which whilst inspiring, does not answer the questions of the middle aged, unemployed workers across the country.
Obama goes on to discuss his upcoming budget which will show investments in areas such as clean energy technology, information technology and biomedical research. However, if there are not enough jobs to go around for each individual, those three things will still be expensive and unaffordable to some. He discusses a small business from Michigan who “with the help of a government loan” went on “reinvent themselves.” He focuses on this idea of ‘re-invention’ as a way of tackling the economic crisis but it is also a way of discussing a difficult topic without actually ever giving answers to the small businesses who went into administration during the recession, or telling unemployed workers how to get back to work. ‘Re-invention’ is a phrase which puts a positive spin on a question that simply doesn’t seem to have an easy answer. He continues this ‘living on a wish and a dream’ attitude by discussing how a Californian University is investigating how to turn water and sunlight into fuel for our cars: technology of the future, perhaps but it still doesn’t address the ever-increasing cost of fuel for today.
President Obama has a job to do and that job, in part, is to raise the hopes of the American people in a time where there are too few jobs, money and aspiration. However, his focus on the future, rather than the here and now suggests that Obama and his administration may not have that many ideas themselves. Their attention is on the future workers, future technologies and the economy of the future. The working class farmer living in the mid-west, who has had to sell large quantities of land in order to stay financially afloat, is not interested in re-invention; he simply wants to sell crops and earn money. Obama is right to suggest that we are entering a time where business is fuelled by the Internet and that the requirement for workers has dwindled; he is also right to be discussing how they plan on creating new jobs. However, who will be qualified to do those jobs; Obama’s emphasis on education and ‘winning the future’ seems to suggest that it won’t be the current generation. President Obama needs to deal with the crisis in hand rather than giving people aspirational talks about the future: how does he propose to handle unemployment now?
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