President Obama stood on the mountaintop last night and saw the Promised Land. But the Republicans told him to forget about it.
In the president’s vision, no fully employed American would have to live in poverty, no child would be denied preschool education and no criminal or maniac could get his hands on a military-grade murder weapon.
Obama’s dream included a restored and renovated infrastructure, funded in part by public/private investment, which would create a million jobs. And he foresaw cutting-edge industrial and technical development, encouraged by tax and funding incentives. This program would not only help to re-energize the economy but also, by developing alternative energy sources, it would help avert the horrors of climate change.
In Obama’s America, undocumented immigrants could step out of the shadows and earn their place in society’s mainstream. And immigration priorities would be reshaped to bring in the highly skilled workers that a technically advanced society would need.
Citizens of all racial and social backgrounds would work together to build a bright new future of justice and equal opportunity for everyone. Women would be shielded from domestic violence and receive the same compensation as men for doing the same kind of work. And gay couples would receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
Students would be equipped by schools, community colleges and universities to handle the challenges of the modern marketplace, and educational facilities would be held accountable for the dollar value they provide as well as their educational merits.
Furthermore, the troops would come home to their loved ones, and children would be safe in their homes, schools, parks and playgrounds.
President Obama invited Congress to join in realizing the dream, reminding the elected representatives of their obligation to put the welfare of their country above the interests of their party.
And with a devastating austerity program mandated to take effect in just two weeks, President Obama offered to pare billions from Medicare in exchange for legislation to close loopholes that allow corporations and the rich to pay little or no federal income taxes.
The audience assembled in the House of Representatives to hear the president’s state of the union address clapped and cheered, often rising to their feet, and his emotional appeal to at least put gun control bills to a vote brought a crescendo of approval.
But the Republican Party’s official response was contrastingly bleak. Delivered by Florida senator Marco Rubio, the party’s response ignored the president’s overture to avert the looming budget cuts and stuck to standard conservative doctrine. After a litany of complaints about the way the president treats his party and a self-serving account of his own rise from “a working class” background, the Republican senator reiterated the Romney-Ryan platform rejected by voters in November.
As Rubio presented it, the Republican vision includes low corporate taxes as the panacea for the country’s problems, protecting the interests of the military-industrial complex, and no federal government intervention in the economy or society (except, of course, in such matters as birth control and abortion). Conflicting with his libertarian rhetoric, Rubio conceded that his own career was made possible by federal student aid, and lauded Medicare for making it possible for his father to die with dignity, as well as caring for his mother in her declining years.
The Republican response was a disheartening, puzzling jumble, punctuated by a bizarre move as Rubio reached for a bottle of water beyond the camera’s range. I was left wondering whether the speech was written before the state of the union message. Rubio described President Obama’s program as a “tax-and-spend” proposal that would drive up the debt, for example, ignoring the president’s pledge that the proposed reforms would be fully funded and “would not add a dime to the deficit” – and despite the absence of any proposed tax-rate increases in the state-of the union message.
What the Republican response made clear (to me, anyway) was that President Obama can expect no cooperation from the House in implementing his vision.
If I were the president, I wouldn’t throw away that state of the union speech; it will come in handy in the mid-term election campaign next year.
Photos show the president delivering the state of the union address and Senator Rubio reaching for water during his response.