In the 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama made it clear that while he is dedicated to working with Congress on addressing many of the country’s lingering problems, he is willing to go it alone where he can if need be.
Considering that the John Boehner-led congress is the most unproductive in several decades, who could blame Obama for noting that he will make use of executive orders? While Obama cannot raise the federal minimum wage for all on his own, he can set the tone by giving federal contractors a much needed boost.
See President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union below:
As he noted during his speech, “In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour – because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.”
Or, in much more memorable slogan fashion: “Say yes. Give America a raise.”
Frankly, $10.10 an hour isn’t keeping anyone out of poverty, but the fact that we still have to debate even giving workers this low a wage is astounding. Much of Obama’s speech felt like this as he addressed other issues that should have long been resolved.
For instance, equal pay for women is one of those campaign trail issues that still receives thunderous applause or smoldering glares, depending on which side of the aisle one sits.
“A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship –- and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.”
The same goes for climate change:
The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.
And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.
“America does not stand still, and neither will I,” Obama said. “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
The speech itself was not relatively ambitious in terms of an agenda. I imagine Obama defenders would argue that is by design. As in, the White House is keeping their plans modest — or better yet, realistic.
It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that until the make up of the House of Representatives shifts back towards sanity, not a whole lot will be done anyway. With that in mind, why not be a bit more aggressive in terms of message and tone? Or are we that scared of bringing up gun control again?
Still, Obama’s remarks were confident, if not playful at certain moments and delivered with fervency — even though in some instances, the validity of his statements were questionable. I cringed a bit when Obama claimed, “That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones – for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.” But I’m sure I didn’t cringe as much as a person living in Yemen or Pakistan.
The speech did end on a high note with Obama’s mention of Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg. Noting their initial meetings, Obama revealed that “on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.”
The fact that Remsburg was on his 10th deployment is horrific enough, but Obama continued:
Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.
“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”
Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.
It was classic Obama: Emphatic, thoughtful, and inspirational. So was the rest of the speech. It’s kept with the themes largely espoused by Obama in recent years: I’ll work with you if you work with me.
But, we’ve been before, and again, know that much won’t change until the makeup of Congress does. After all, you couldn’t even get members of one political party to stand up and applaud the idea that no family should have to languish in poverty.
The president can only do so much even with executive power. The White House knows this and literally minutes after Obama finished his speech, Vice President Joe Biden sent out an email asking for donations.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how the numerous Republican responses went: lie, fable, tall tale, falsehood.