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Obama State of the Union: Rallying Cry Against Economic Disenfranchisement

02/14/2013 10:16 am ET | Updated Apr 16, 2013

Mr. Obama is getting high marks on Tuesday's State of the Union as well he should, but the overarching principle, and recurring theme throughout the speech is that of a presidency that has pledged to address the gaping problem of economic disenfranchisement.

A pivotal moment came when the president introduced the 102-year-old Miami woman who waited for six hours to get into a voting booth. It was pivotal because, increasingly, it is the poor and people of color who find voting harder and harder at a time when many states have tried to neutralize the Voting Rights Act. His proposal for voting reform is an important one, but the disenfranchisement highlighted in the State of the Union has as much to do with the workplace as the polling place..

This was the thread that connected Obama's proposal to expand access to preschool offering opportunities to all youngsters, and an important acknowledgment that scholastic and professional underachievement are generational and institutionalized.

The president's proposal to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour was framed by his acknowledgment that workers who have 40-hour workweeks at the current minimum wage still live at or below the federal poverty line. This is unacceptable.

Implicit in these concepts is the fact that the kinds of cuts called for by the sequester are those that will only work to ensure that the ranks of the economically displaced grow. "We can't just cut our way to prosperity," Mr. Obama said. Surely he knows that that's not the intention of the Republicans to cut our way to prosperity, but instead to cut social programs to ensure that those who are already prosperous aren't diminished one bit by any effort to contain the deficit.

Marco Rubio, in his response to the State of the Union, was quick to confuse the issue, and accuse the president of wanting to raise taxes. What Rubio and other Republicans fail to mention is that this administration wants to raise taxes on those who can afford to pay more. This is an effort at economic justice, not retribution.

Mr. Obama is quite right again when he says that "Deficit reduction is not an economic plan." It was never intended to be an economic plan as he knows, but instead a plan to roll back all the advances made under the New Deal.

The Fix it First is a proposal that will put long term unemployed back to work in public works restoring both their dignity, and the nation's infrastructure. It's a win-win.

And, when it came to talking about housing, the president put forth a plan to help working folks refinance their mortgage at a rate that's affordable to them, so they're not faced with a crisis in residency. Yet another call to work to end economic disenfranchisement.

By committing to comprehensive immigration reform, this president is addressing the most egregious instance of economic displacement we now confront as a nation that of eleven million undocumented workers who are being exploited, working for far less than the minimum wage, separated from their families during ICE raids, rounded up and deported. By acknowledging the need to create a legitimate path for citizenship, this administration is confronting head on the need to end economic disenfranchisement of millions of undocumented immigrants.

While the president's speech was ambitious and not short on specifics, it was resoundingly consistent in this one theme alone, that of owning up to the working poor and indigent in America, and taking a seismic step in advancing towards economic justice.

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