Article II Section 3 of the United States Constitution reads, in reference to the President, "He shall, from time to time, give Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."
It doesn't necessarily say how or when, and some Presidents have chosen to simply send a note along. But, in the day of television, and campaigns, it's a great vehicle for a President to pontificate and use his most lethal weapon, the Bully Pulpit.
My current President, President Barack Obama, is going to give his State of the Union address as is customary this time of year. It's January, January means State of the Union.
I've been thinking about what he can say to change things. What could be done. What message could be imparted? I've also been thinking about the actual state of our union; or, for that matter, if there's even a real "union" at all or just a series of disjointed states, each disagreeing on everything, colored red or blue, divided by so much and united in so little.
I have a million pithy answers for what the state of our union truly is, but this morning I had one of "those" moments where you get it: the State of the Union depends on where you are in it; what your place in it is.
While pondering these thoughts I got to the business of the day. I rode my perfect around town gas saver, my Piaggio MP3, over to City Hall in Long Beach, CA. I needed to get a ticket extended (please don't make me go off on the injustice of our traffic fine system) and decided to walk around City Hall and the Library area. As a kid in 1976 I thought this building was the symbol of the future. It's design was so modern that Hollywood came knocking many times; with the plaza's biggest role being that of home base in the original Battelstar Galacteca starring Derk Benedict and Richard Hatch. Now, there's luggage everywhere, carry-ons stuffed with a lifetime of belongings. It has become a homeless gathering place, the proverbial end of the road for some, one step short of the morgue; in fact, it's a living morgue, a place where those not alive in any sense, but not physically dead yet go to wait. A living purgatory of in-betweens.
Some are hardened homeless, they have the look, you can tell. Others, they simply look like fish out of water. I approached a young couple, not over 21 in age either of them. A young black girl, cute, vibrant, and a handsome young man, muscled, mustache. They had a pair of dogs, a puppy shepherd of some kind, and a smaller dog. We began to speak. They're from Alabama, not sure how they got here or why.
"Welcome to California!" I say in part ironically. We all laugh. "Things aren't much better here," I add.
"Not yet," the young girls says.
"We're heading south," the young man interjects. "Maybe San Diego where I could get a job or something..."
"The President's speaking tonight, probably about the economy, does it even matter?" I query.
"Well, it would be nice to hear what he has to say, I like him," the young lady adds.
"But what could he really do to help us right now?" The man asks.
"I don't know, you tell me, what could he do?" I ask.
"Well, pay for me and her to go back to school, we can't afford it and the help wasn't enough, maybe even put us back to work; the money for food stamps or other things just isn't really enough to bother plus we want to work for our food. It would be nice if he said we were going to spend as much money on, well, us, as on war," he finished.
I wanted to argue but the big argument on the Hill right now is how to cut everything and yet we just placed an order for one trillion dollars worth of spiffy new planes that can land like helicopters.
We spoke a moment more, and I departed. I gave them all the cash I had, $8. They didn't ask. But the dogs... well, I'm a softie for people with pets.
So the state of their union isn't the best, in fact, it's pretty bleak. I pass a bearded man, probably under 30, I smile, he smiles back, and then resumes that far away glance of a person with truly nothing to do and no where to be. It's an empty, desperate look, one you don't forget, and there it was.
I round the corner and there's the beach, the Pike, the Wells Fargo Plaza. The irony that a block from the large Wells Fargo skyscraper in Long Beach is the homeless park isn't lost on me. Pine Avenue, the Pike, shopping and entertainment center, hopes for the Long Beach redevelopment that never quite came, never took off, never reached its full potential. "For Lease" signs replace "Welcome!" mats and restaurants sit closed. The state of the union for these business owners, these people trying to hold on to middle class, is tenuous at best. Some bars, clubs, are squeaking by, as we turn to vices in a time of depression; others have cut their staffs so much one single server does it all and is grateful for the chance.
I drive down Broadway and what was once the thriving "gay corridor" is a series of run down bars, closed coffee shops or business open with a smattering of the clients where throngs once were. One local business, "Ripples," the first gay dance club in Long Beach, was so desperate to make it, to reshape, to survive they enlisted the help of Tabatha, from Tabatha Takes Over on Bravo! Will the changes help, work and revitalize this failing business? Not at $10 a martini it won't, but I didn't want to break it to them. So the state of the union for the GLBT community in this city is... challenged, like the rest. Not only economically, but hate crimes are on the rise, they still can't get married right here in sunny southern California and politicians pander to the community and then fulfill none or a scant of their promises. The state of that union is weary.
But then there's Belmont Shore, the million dollar houses, the nice cars, lovely restaurants. There's the marina with the yachts and the cruises. And while some are living a façade, maxed out on their credit cards or their equity lines topped off, waiting for the moment it all collapses, others are just fine. Their bills are paid, their retirement plans in order, their millions or more secured. And while they worry, they are not stressed. The state of their union is oblivious. They believe they pay enough, or too much, they believe it's the poor or others that are responsible for their own lot and they and their families are fine. The state of their union may even be optimistic.
So in one scooter ride I realize the State of the Union is all a matter of perspective. Almost half of the people that make up the audience for the State of the Union, the House and Senate, almost half are millionaires. Of those, at least 10 are $100 million+ club. Even the President and his family are now worth millions. The State of their Union is secure; no matter how bad it gets, they have a safety net as do their loved ones. As they scream about how union pension plans are bankrupting America, they have a retirement plan par none.
And my city is the United States, a small microcosm, with each state being a different neighborhood; each with a different perspective on the state of the union, or the idea of a union all together.
The fact is, the state of our union is no stronger or weaker than it has been at any other time in history. We've had challenges, depressions, civil war, racial inequality, income disparity...we've done it all before. What's changed is We, the People. We are older, fatter, sicker, broker and wearier than we've been in a while. And it shows.
The fact is we are in a terrible state right now, and we've been in them before. What we need is honesty. If the President laid it all out there, the truth, including the fact that we've been taken over by obstructionists, corporatists and elitists and what sacrifices we must make, all of us, the 100% not the 99% or the 1%, but all of us then it might be a start.
But when it comes to Washington, D.C., the State of the Union goes unchanged it would appear, weighed down by its own politics and ground to a halt by its own obtuse and antiquated ideologies.
The State of Our Union will never be strong until we all realize it is OUR union, not THEIRS again. Until then, we are spectators at a speech that changes nothing in reality but sounds good on TV.