by Michael H. Cottman, BlackAmericaWeb.com
President Barack Obama, in a defiant election-year State of the Union address, told Americans Tuesday night that he is committed to creating jobs for millions of unemployed Americans and challenged the nation’s wealthiest citizens to make sacrifices to help families who are struggling to survive.
The rich, Obama argued, must pay more in taxes if America is to achieve economic parity where every American gets an opportunity to succeed. In short, Obama wants to level the playing field and bring a sense of financial fairness to middle-class communities.
“The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent,” Obama said during a 66-minute speech before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill.
“No debate is more important,” Obama said. “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.”
Obama, who is running for re-election against a determined Republican Party, delivered an address Tuesday that was him as part government administrator and part campaign candidate. The president sought Tuesday to frame his campaign message that comes at a critical time for black Americans: Even though the nation’s unemployment rate has dropped to 8.5 percent, the black unemployment rate has skyrocketed to 15.8 percent.
“Let’s never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that does the same.” Obama said. “It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts and no copouts. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.”
He outlined what his advisors said are new proposals to jump-start the economy.
“Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people,” Obama said, “an America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.”
“This blueprint,” he continued, “begins with American manufacturing.”
Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s number-one automaker, Obama said. Chrysler, he added, has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company. Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories, he said, and together, the entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs.
“If you’re a business that wants to outsource jobs, you shouldn’t get a tax deduction for doing it,” Obama said. “That money should be used to cover moving expenses for companies like Master Lock that decide to bring jobs home.”
On education, Obama said he wants to give schools the resources to keep good teachers on the job and reward the best ones.
“I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18,” Obama said. “When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July. Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves middle-class families thousands of dollars. And give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.”
Roslyn M. Brock, chairman of the NAACP national Board of Directors, said Obama’s proposals for job creation and addressing the foreclosure crisis are critical steps toward ensuring that all Americans benefit from the nation’s economic recovery.
“We applaud him for addressing the NAACP’s long-standing priority of economic stability and progress in communities of color,” Brock said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Obama was a bit combative during his address and pushed back against Republicans who have tried – with some success – to block portions of Obama’s legislative agenda.
“As long as I’m president, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum,” he said. “But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.”
Reaction to Obama’s address was swift.
Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, said Obama has a strategic plan for bringing jobs back to America – if Congress would only work with him.
“Congress is dominated by obstructionists who are all too willing to let millions of families and children suffer endlessly if it advances their petty political purposes,” Jealous said in a statement. “It is time for Congressional obstructionists to be a part of the solution and to show the leadership their constituents are dying for.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he supports Obama’s message.
“I agree with President Barack Obama,” Cleaver said. “We stand at a critical moment in American history. We can choose to uplift a small segment of our population or we can work together to improve the lives of all Americans.”
“As our nation’s economy slowly rebounds, the African-American community experiences disproportionately higher rates of unemployment, home foreclosure, educational and healthcare disparities, as well as economic hardship,” Cleaver said. “As a result, vulnerable communities increasingly rely on public programs to meet their basic needs, but these are the very same programs the Republican leadership has continued to attack.”
Illinois Rep. Bobby L. Rush characterized Obama’s State of the Union address as an “emphatic and powerful statement from a determined and purpose-driven leader.”
Rush expressed his support for the president’s plans to increase jobs at home, retrain American workers, rebuild America’s infrastructure and create a more vibrant economy based upon a comprehensive manufacturing strategy that supports innovation and increased exports to the world.
“President Obama threw down the gauntlet and challenged this Republican controlled ‘do-nothing’ Congress to fight for the American people and to fight for America’s future,” Rush said. “The president has tried negotiation, reconciliation, and compromise with the Republicans, to no avail.”
“President Obama spoke his mind and let us know that he knows how hard these times really are,” Rush said. “President Obama said he is ready to fight, and I mean fight hard, for regular working people.”
“I, for one, am glad the president was willing to show the stuff that he’s really made of tonight,” he added.
The Republican National Committee, however, blasted Obama with a new television ad, entitled “State of Our Union.”
“For three years, the president has made promise after promise. And more often than not, he’s broken those promise,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. “Barack Obama has treated his presidency like a campaign — willing to say anything to keep his job, unwilling to do anything to create jobs for Americans.”
But Roland Martin, who spoke on CNN Tuesday night, said Obama “appealed to the American people.” He said Obama challenged “Congress to get your butt to work … his close was strong.”
“This was the president saying [to Congress] stop playing games,” Martin added. “It’s about one nation working together.”
Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said Americans who work hard are no longer assured an equal opportunity at success.
“However,” Cummings said, “I believe that the America that President Obama spoke about tonight is possible to regain, and that we must continue to fight to rebuild American manufacturing, to create American energy, to retrain American workers and to renew our American values.”