STATE OF THE UNION REVIEW

 “OPTIMISM (DEMOCRATS) VS “GLOOMINESS” (THE GOP)

Congress Sotu

L-R Representatives Anthony Weiner (D-NY), Peter King (R-NY), Charles Rangel (D-NY)

President Barack Obama – “We do big things.”

Representative Paul Ryan – “Speaking candidly, as one citizen to another: We still have time… but not much time. If we continue down our current path, we know what our future will be.”

BEST OF THE SPEECH

“Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t there yet. NASA didn’t even exist.  But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. In a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown.  You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors.  If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion.  Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.

That world has changed.  And for many, the change has been painful.  I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear -– proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.

They’re right.  The rules have changed.  In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business.  Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100.  Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection. This is about as close as the President or any national elected official has come to saying: “Folks, the truth of the matter is that most of the jobs lost under Bill Clinton, George Bush and the early days of my administration are gone and they’re not coming back.”

Already, we are seeing the promise of renewable energy. Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company. After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon. But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard.

Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country. In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves.”

“Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we are also revitalizing America’s community colleges. Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina. Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town. One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old.  And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams too. As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.” I can identify with Kathy – minus the children of course – because as many of you know, I returned to school last February to earn a degree in Healthcare Management and I’m on track to receive my AA in June 2012.

“Now, I’ve heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.

What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition.  I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered. I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business owner from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees.  As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their parents’ coverage. So instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward.”

“To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.  And we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”

“And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.

It’s not a matter of punishing their success. It’s about promoting America’s success.”

“Let me take this one step further. We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable. We should give them a government that’s more competent and efficient. We cannot win the future with a government of the past.

We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV.  There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

“Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families.  Let us serve them as well as they have served us – by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.  And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.”

“We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything’s possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from.”

“That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight. That dream is why a working class kid from Scranton can stand behind me.  That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.”

“From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

We are a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company. I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree. I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try. I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there. I know we will.”

We do big things.

The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it is because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.”

RANDOM THOUGHTS

I’ve been a supporter of Barack Obama long before he became a candidate for the presidency in February 2007 so, I’m never, ever surprised by his intellect, poise, grace and ability to say not what the nation or his opponents want him to say, but what the nation needs to hear at the given time. Over and over again, ever since he gave his now legendary keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Obama has stood head and shoulders above everyone in the political world. And last night, at a pivotal moment in his administration and the country’s history, he did so again.

What I am surprised and mystified by is that the party that has practically sanctified Ronald Reagan, as relentlessly optimistic as anyone to sit in the Oval Office in the last 50 years, has become a party of such gloom and doom. I can’t imagine anyone who came away feeling hopeful about the future after watching Paul Ryan’s sour face and body language during the GOP’s official response to the president’s speech last night. I half expected the camera to pull back and reveal that Ryan was sitting in the coffin showroom of a funeral home. I know his job was to offer a stark contrast to the president but, what’s the point of trying to scare America into accepting your positions.

And last but not least, I’m tired of hearing the GOP say “The president must come around to our way of thinking.” It’s the other way around and I hope President Obama and the Democrats work from that point of view for the next two years.

“Now what?”

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