The State of the Divided Union

President Obama’s first standing ovation during the SOU address came when he said, referring to the resiliency of our nation during hard times,  “It’s because of this spirit…that I’ve never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight.  Despite our hardships, our union is strong.”  But is it strong?  What union was he referring too?  He mentioned the Battle of Bull Run during the American Civil war.  There was certainly a strong resolve on the part of President Lincoln to preserve the union.  Or was he talking about labor unions?  It’s hard to argue that unions are strong when they represent only 12.3% of the workforce or approximately 15 million workers.  In fact, union membership is on the decline.  In 1983, there were over 17 million union workers – over 20% of the workforce.   So what union was he talking about in his speech? Not the union of the people either.  I can’t remember a time when the people of this country were more divided.  I think his point was that the people don’t want to be divided.  That voters are fed up with partisan politics.  He tried to elevate himself above the gridlock that is Washington, but his administration is part of the problem.

Obama supporters expected him to deliver on some of his 2008 campaign promises on domestic issues in his first year, promises on  health care and immigration reform and job creation.   Ambitious as the promises were, the fact that health care reform did not come, that he came close but could not close the deal speaks to a failed approach, one in which he tried to placate the blue dogs and republicans by giving up on the public option.  As to jobs, the stimulus package hasn’t created as many as expected, partly because the stimulus wasn’t big enough.  And without Ted Kennedy, immigration reform may be nothing more than a hollow promise.

So what is Obama to do to right the ship? First, he wants bipartisan governance, but the republicans don’t want the democrats to get credit for anything.  They seem determined to say no to everything, even their own ideas.   So he should continue to expose this hypocrisy as he did at the meeting with republicans a day after the SOU.  I hope more candid meetings like this continue, but I have a feeling that the republican leadership will put a stop to it.   Second, he needs to stop sounding like a republican or he is going to lose his base of support.  How many times did Obama reference tax cuts in the SOU?  Tax cuts for businesses, for the middle class, for students, for homebuyers, for parents, and even more corporate welfare to encourage investment.  Tax breaks for everyone except the wealthiest, who don’t need them and could, if they chose, game the system by hiding assets or hiring  effective lawyers and accountants to find loopholes.  And then a spending freeze.  Republicans might like the sound of that, but of course will criticize him for not doing it soon enough.  Reducing the deficit should be a national priority, but it should be noted time and time again that Obama inherited the huge deficit.

The State of the Union is this:  We are a divided nation.   We don’t have to always agree on the issues, but there is such a thing as compromise.  Without it, we will continue to be a dysfunctional nation.  Let’s bring back the United in United States of America.

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