Backward State of the Union does very little to forward the nation

by Max Miller – Staff Writer – nmiller@unca.edu

 

The 2013 Grammy for Album of the Year was awarded to Mumford and Sons for their sophomore release, Babel. The album met widespread commercial success, but was critically panned as a bland rehash of old ideas.

Days later, the American public continued to heap praise on caution as it embraced President Obama’s State of the Union address.

It was clear as soon as he opened with a quote from John F. Kennedy that Obama was looking more backward than forward as he addressed a nation rocked by violence and in the midst of an economic crisis.

Obama, already a month into his second term, needs to do everything in his power to better this country and make the changes he has been talking about since 2008. Instead, he continues to ramble on about plans for the nation’s future that never seem to take hold.

Maybe the fault lies with Congress.

Throughout the address, Obama asked Congress to act on all of the concepts his administration brought to the table. According to Obama, they need to pass the rest of his health care plan, negotiate a budget to prevent the sequester and raise the minimum wage, among other things. From his speech, you would think Obama was coming before Congress, cap in hand, with a pitiful frown on his face as he begged, “Please sirs, may I ‘ave some more?”

While he wasted time making a laundry list of things he would like to do if not for a stubborn Congress, Obama could have addressed complex social issues that will affect Americans’ freedoms for generations.

Obama has done little to rock the boat since his controversial announcement last May that he endorsed legalizing same-sex marriage. The news was especially surprising to hear months before the election, as some feared his views would alienate traditional-minded voters. As such, it is understandable he did little to focus on the issue as he campaigned for re-election. But now, with his second term underway, Obama needs to dedicate more effort to securing rights for the gay community.

Congress will vote on the Defense of Marriage Act in March. The act would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and thus federalize bans on gay marriage that already exist in some states. As if this were not bad enough, the act would take away rights from gay couples who have already been married in states where the practice is legal.

In spite of all at stake for the American gay community, Obama mentioned gays in his address once, and the reference, while positive, was in passing at best.

He gave a little more mention to immigration reform, but his focus was narrow. He announced he wanted to increase border security to deter illegal immigrants while making the process of legal immigration less time-consuming.

This idea seems to conflict, however, with his concurrent announcement of a bipartisan committee to draft a bill creating guidelines for legal immigrants submitting to background checks, learning English and being better educated on becoming an American citizen.

The future of the reform is unclear, and once again relies on speculative acts by an outside body. Not to mention Obama’s speech did nothing to focus on the children of illegal immigrants, a growing demographic in America that will face its own slew of problems in coming years.

These are not trivial issues. Discrimination against gays and immigrants are two of the biggest social issues plaguing America, and history will look back on them the way it looks back on the discrimination of African-Americans and women.

Some want to see the issues shot down and have life remain the same as it is today, while others want to sweep the issues under a rug until some arbitrary point in the future. But both tactics are equally wrongheaded.

Obama, for all of his good intentions, falls into the latter category, and his State of the Union address failed by playing a blame game with Congress.

Mumford and Sons performed a song at the 2013 Grammys entitled, “I Will Wait,” in which the whole band sings, “I will wait, I will wait for you,” ad nauseum. It is a message Obama appears to embrace.

But if Obama continues to wait instead of taking a stand on gay rights and immigration reform, his second term will be up, and he will have nothing to show for it.

 

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