The Pulp: A Progressive’s Response to Obama’s Sixth #SOTU

First, let me announce that this is the premiere of my new weekly column called “The Pulp.” This column will be a large blend of policy, politics, progress, and yes, even some pop culture. In addition to my weekly column, I’ll also be writing daily posts that will include my “must reads” for that time of day. These three posts — Morning Squeeze, Afternoon Juice, and Evening Zest — will cover a variety of news in a variety of different areas including economics, campaigns, Florida politics, and breaking news throughout the day. If you are my friend on Facebook, this won’t be new to you, as I typically post a few must reads every day on my page. This will simply bring all of that to The Florida Squeeze.

Now that we’ve gotten that all out of way, let’s about last night shall we? From a progressive standpoint, last night’s speech was exactly what we wanted to hear (minus a couple of disappointments, which we we will talk about in a few) and left many progressives that I spoke to last night and this morning, with the question “where has this President Obama been?” A reference to President Obama’s lackluster progressive performance on major issues including: climate change, immigration, economic fairness, transparency, and others. But, last night America was treated to the Barack Obama it voted for in 2008. A progressive, fiery Obama with plans on how to expedite economic growth for all Americans not just the top 1%. This was the first time since he was elected, that President Obama was confrontational with Republicans: threatening to veto Iranian sanctions, doubling down on Climate Change, issues a waring on obstructing Obamacare, and the obvious theme, breaking out the pen for executive action on economic issues.

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Earlier this week I released my Progressive Guide to #SOTU2014 that essentially outlined what Progressives wanted to hear last night. I mentioned that we would like to see President Obama threaten to use Executive Orders when Congress fails to act to improve our economy. The President came through on that hope quite early in the speech last night and it would become clear to all those watching that bypassing Congress on economic issues was a major theme of this year’s SOTU:

But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still, and neither will I. (Applause.) 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.

President Obama vowed to take executive action on the minimum wage. However, rather than calling for an increase of the minimum wage nationwide, he took a small first step in ensuring federal contract workers are paid a minimum of $10.10/hr. This is a great step in ensuring a living wage for every American.  President Obama mentioned the choice of wholesale retailer Costco to pay higher wages than its competition in an effort to boost productivity, morale, and yes, profits. The results are that in America, higher wages lead to a more productive workforce, which lead to higher sales, and more money pumping through a weak economy weighed down by a slow recovery:

Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too. 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 — (cheers, applause) — our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty. (Sustained applause.)

When it came to discussing trade and the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), I was rather disappointed. President Obama did not mention the TPP by name nor discuss at all what it will mean for American families, businesses, and the environment. As I mentioned in my SOTU Preview, earlier this winter Wikileaks published a secret draft of the TPP which was met with heavy outcry over its contents. President Obama needs to address how this proposed trade deal will affect American manufacturing jobs, the environment, intellectual property rights, and other issues. Progressive and labor leaders were certainly looking for a statement showing the President will stop at nothing to protect the American worker. While he did show an abiding respect for the American worker throughout his speech last night, there was no mention of the secret deals struck in negotiating the TPP. I’ll have more on the TPP and what it means for the American people and the economy next week in The Pulp.

As I watched last night, one of the more important points in the speech was the section devoted to the budget, the America idea of access to opportunity for all, and upward social mobility. This is the section that Progressives desperately wanted to hear:

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all. So our job is to reverse these trends.

Last night, President Obama doubled down on climate change. In the most vociferous and fire-breathing statement of the night, President Obama declared that the debate is settled and that climate change is a FACT, and that we must do something about it. He mentioned that the US is now the number one producer of oil and that our shift to a cleaner and greeener economy is coming but will take time and difficult decisions.

But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. (Applause.) And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did. (Cheers, applause.)

There was one line last night that got more publicity than any other. This line showed just how progressive this speech was and whom the President’s targeted audience was. It was the line directed at American women:

You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work. (Cheers, applause.) You know, she deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. (Cheers, applause.) A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship. (Applause.) And you know what, a father does too. It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) This year let’s all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street, to give every woman the opportunity she deserves, because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds.

This was the most quoted line in all of the media reports last night, and for good reasons. Women make up the majority of minimum wage workers in this country and half of the total workforce. The time has come to ensure women get equal pay for equal work. It has come time for maternity and paternity leave in the workplace. It’s quite disturbing and frankly pathetic that in 2014, the world’s last and greatest superpower still does not pay its women equally and fairly nor treat them with dignity and respect.

While these promises sounded great last night, I will take them with a grain of salt. Republicans still control the House of Representatives and thanks to the arcane rules of the Senate, the minority still has a stranglehold over the legislative process there. Thus it’s going to be extremely difficult to make bipartisan progress on these issues to result in legislation for the President to sign. We even heard a resurgence of the old promise that we are going to close the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay that we’ve heard ever since President Obama first took office in 2009.

Two things come to mind in terms of disappointments from last night. President Obama did voice a plan to repair our image across the world, our surveillance practices, and our lack of transparency in the wake of the NSA’s PRISM program revealed to the world by whistleblower Edward Snowden. This issue was only granted a small, one-sentence mention:

That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.

The other disappointment was the absence of a section on marriage equality. In fact, as with the issue of surveillance, marriage equality was granted only one sentence in the speech even as many states are fighting to ban gay marriage, gay adoptions, and other LGBT issues.

And across the country — (applause) — we’re partnering with mayors, governors and state legislatures on issues from homelessness to marriage equality.

All in all, President Obama’s speech was the most progressive one I’d heard since his first in 2009. He articulated a progressive vision with promises of action on so many of our bread and butter issues. Now, talk is cheap, and Progressives are frustrated. It’s time for action. President Obama seemed sincere last night on his threats of executive action, and lord willing, the Progressive Caucus will hold him to those promises. Our economy’s health is in the balance.

Thanks for Reading,
JS
@JustinSnyderFL

One comment

  1. This blog was… how do you say it? Relevant!!
    Finally I have found something that helped me. Thanks!

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