More seasoned today than when he first ran for the White House, President Obama might now laugh at himself and how naive he sounded in 2008, when he declared that he would "change the way Washington works" if elected to the White House. Little did he know that only a year into his first term, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission would cement the sellout of our nation to the 1% and their "special" interests -- a devastating decision by five conservative "activists" in black robes that essentially put our federal government on the block, to be sold wholesale to the highest bidder. The results of this poisonous act are now in full effect, destroying our democracy in ways known and unknown that endanger the way of life we have known throughout our lifetimes. The much younger and less gray Candidate Obama promised the moon, and his eloquence on the campaign trail dazzled us with tales of the new world that was coming under his grammatically-challenged banner of "Change We Can Believe In." Needless to say, "Change" has been slow in coming, due, in part, to the lunatic conservative fringe that took over Congress in 2010 and ground it to a halt, with many Republicrats sadly joining in.
Fast-forward to the president's State of the Union speech and one couldn't help but notice that the usual laundry list of achievements from the previous year had been replaced by things that still desperately need to be done. Indeed, the few successes the president did mention -- saving the auto industry, bringing home the troops from Iraq, killing bin Laden -- were skimmed over in the first few minutes, never to be mentioned again. O did note that three million jobs have been created on his watch -- which pales in comparison to the 8 million lost in '08 and '09. He also tried to sell the American people on the virtues of new job-exporting, NAFTA-style trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, as well as the expansion of dirty gas and oil drilling as ways to make America more energy independent. Talk about the cure being worse than the ailment. These and many other divisive legislative "victories" and proposals did little more than anger people on both sides of the aisle, and certainly could not be looked on as "Change." Even the president's signature achievement -- his health care bill -- is now in front of the Supreme Court, ready to pick it apart, if not reject it outright.
The SOTU usually reflects on grand accomplishments and offers a rosy projection for the future -- an attempt to inspire the American people and the assembled members of Congress. But other than his mentioning that GM has regained its number one status in the world, thanks to loans from the American people via our tax dollars, not much else was offered in the way of economic accomplishments. Where was the bailout for the middle class, Mr. President? Those hard-working Americans who were getting squeezed out of their jobs and homes at the same time? O also skipped any mention of the poor (or the "very poor," for that matter), the homeless and the hungry in our country, an ever-growing crisis with no end in sight. 46 million people now live below the poverty line, according to HuffPost reporter Alexander Eichler's excellent January 31 article, "Working Poor: Almost Half of U.S. Households Live One Crisis From The Bread Line." And if that isn't bad enough, 127.5 million, or 43% of households, are just one healthcare emergency or job loss away from falling below the poverty line. A compassionate nod to these at-risk Americans was warranted, Mr. President, as well as some proposals for helping them. Please don't tell me they are off your radar, too, as they are with Mitt Romney.
By the way, you might also have given at least a passing mention to OWS, which brought Wall Street's transgressions to the world's attention -- including yours. Showing some support and thanks to these heroic young people, who have given up so much to speak for their country, would have been appropriate.
It is time to be bold, Mr. President, with a grand vision of rebuilding our country's infrastructure (as opposed to building Newt's moon-base) and economy at the same time. Think of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II as a template. America's bridges, tunnels and roadways are still falling apart, and I can think of no better investment that would provide the twin benefits of more jobs and safer, more efficient travel than putting money into fixing them up.
On the economic side, recently appointing Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau was also a good step in the right direction, Mr. President. Let's hope he is able to produce results. In the SOTU, you mentioned shared responsibility and everyone paying their fair share, meaning, I presume, a tax increase for those who can afford it. This should start with raising the capital gains tax, so that Mr. Romney would not continue to pay under 15% on the millions he made last year from his investments, or "unearned income," as it were. 28% -- the same level it was at the end of Conservative demigod Ronald Reagan's presidency -- would be a more appropriate capital gains tax rate, if not higher. Of course, the tax system itself must be overhauled if we are to increase the revenue we so desperately need. Wall Street must also be held accountable for its continuing transgressions, which Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York and his newly formed task force will hopefully address in its investigations of the mortgage crisis. Such tough talk by the President was well received in the SOTU, as was his recommendation for rewarding corporations that return jobs to our shores, while holding accountable those who continue to export them.
You will not win in 2012, Mr. President, if you can't inspire the same numbers of enthusiastic voters that you did in 2008. If you think the Republicans have been vicious to each other, just wait until they and their Super PACs turn their attention to you. You must step up to your bully pulpit now and show us that you truly are a man of the People. You can do this, in part, by continuing to press for the good policy proposals you mentioned in the SOTU, while also making the case that waste and corruption in government will never be stopped as long as the Citizens United decision remains the law of the land. Show your support for public financing of campaigns and the removal of unidentified, dirty money from our electoral process.
You must also show your support for clean and fair elections. All Americans have a protected right to vote, and in this election, every vote must be counted. Disenfranchisement and voter fraud is un-American and cannot be tolerated. You know that voter suppression is the Republican's stock in trade, and already 11 Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed "laws" intended to suppress voters, including in critical states like Florida and Ohio, according to the Democratic Governors Association. Meanwhile, 5 Democratic governors have had to veto voter-suppression bills in their states. Democratic governors have launched a Voter Protection Project to get the word out and fight these un-democratic efforts and protect the public's right to vote. Michael Waldman, the Executive Director of the Brennan Center For Justice at New York University, recently wrote in an article in The American Prospect that 65 million eligible Americans would automatically be registered to vote if we simplified the process, the way it is in Canada and Britain. Rekindling participation in voting will only strengthen our democracy.
Take the money out of politics, protect Americans right to vote, and make it easier for more Americans to exercise their Constitutional rights -- three issues it's hard to oppose and can help bolster your credentials as a man of the People, Mr. President. Talk about these issues, along with some bold and simple to understand policy proposals and you can't go wrong.
Oh, yes, and one more suggestion: Please do a thorough review of those Cabinet Secretaries and advisors and start handing out some pink slips, starting with Timothy Geithner. That would be a "change" in which I, for one, could certainly believe.
- with Jonathan Stone
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