By Jorge Castorena, Managing Editor
It was sad to see President Obama give his second-to-last State of the Union, which took place on Jan. 21, if only because America will get to enjoy just one last time the hilarious juxtaposition of Joe Biden and John Boehner’s faces behind the president.
I’m already looking forward to watching them next year.
As usual, the two men behind the president stole the show, the jittery vice president with his silly cheering and smirking, while the speaker of the House went on looking as though he had been forced to suck on a lemon for the past four years (or perhaps that is just his resting face).
This is important, because these two faces illustrate to us the narrative of the president’s speech.
With his typical charisma and eloquence, President Obama delivered what seemed to be a victory speech, both for himself and for the work of Democrats over the last six years. He laid out the progress he believes he has made, beginning with saving the country from prolonged war and economic catastrophe, and cried out victory in the crippling of Russia through sanctions and the recent diplomatic developments with Cuba (cue the vice president’s smirk and clapping).
But we must keep in mind the political and global contexts in which Obama addresses the nation. The president’s party suffered a defeat in November, Republicans have control of both houses of Congress, the economy is only slowly picking up, and even then experts are split about what the economy will do. Let’s not forget that we’re still $17 trillion in debt.
The list goes on. Racial tensions in the U.S. are higher than they’ve been in decades, Islamist extremists are terrorizing the world (Canada, France, the Middle East, Australia and now Japan), and 50 million people have been forced out of their homes worldwide, the highest number of refugees since World War II.
Suddenly, our victorious president, the leader of the free world and the face of progressivism, doesn’t seem so victorious anymore – and he spent very little time discussing these problems. Some might call this denial. That, or the president attempted to minimize a very troublesome year and shed good light on the accomplishments of the past six. Either way, ignoring things is just poor leadership.
Obama then offered his economy-focused agenda for the next two years, at the center of which is the middle class. His proposals included the expansion of child care credit (make child care more affordable for working families), making the first two years of college free (via community college), paid maternity leave, and help pay for mortgage down payments. He talked about the wage gap between men and women, and said he wouldn’t back down on raising the minimum wage.
To fund these proposals, the president intends to increase taxes and fees on families with over $500,000 in income and companies with assets of over $50 billion. The White House estimates this will generate $320 billion in a decade. Cue Boehner’s sourhead-face (does he ever smile?), and somber looks from all of the Republicans.
“Middle class economics works,” he said. “Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.”
Wishful thinking, Mr. President, but judging by Boehner and Biden in the background, politics aren’t likely to go away anytime soon. More than anything, in fact, the speech forecasts what the political climate of the year will be like. It will be an uphill battle domestically with a Republican-led Congress, not to mention the worsening unrest abroad.
But there is opportunity for the president to take on leadership, beginning with the tackling of politics. He asks Republicans to step across the aisle and work with him, but if he is the victorious leader he portrays, he too would extend a hand across the aisle, and unite a government so torn by politics and a nation who is largely losing faith in that government.
Maybe that’s wishful thinking, too, but he has a chance to surprise us. And maybe, just maybe, Boehner might sneak a smile on camera a year from now – and Obama could leave office knowing he made history.