One of the primary functions of government is to keep us safe - not only from foreign enemies but from fellow citizens who've turned to crime. We function best when we feel safe and secure in the world. It allows us to unlock our creative minds, produce more and better work and give back to society in the most positive ways.
So, as I watched President Obama's State of the Union speech I listened carefully for what he would say that would address American's concerns about crime and justice and help us feel safer. After all, consider recent events. Shortly before the speech, in states across the nation, eleven police officers had been killed in the line of duty in a 24 period. And the country is still reeling from the shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona that left 6 people dead and 14 wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
I was disappointed with the speech.
Oh, at the top of the speech Mr. Obama referenced the empty chair in the chamber left vacant for Rep. Giffords but he failed to specifically acknowledge the family of 9 year old Christina-Taylor Green sitting above him in the House chamber. John and Roxanne Green and their son, Dallas, were summoned to Washington to sit next to First Lady Michelle Obama during the address but they were never mentioned by name. Neither were others flown in for the photo-op: Tucson nurse Tracy Culbert and other members of the hospital staff who ministered to the fallen that awful day and Daniel Hernandez, the quick thinking congressional intern who almost certainly saved Giffords life by immediately applying pressure to her head wound.
It might have gone a long way if the president had specifically singled out these folks as a signal to all of us that heroism and goodness really do prevail.
As the speech progressed the President said nothing about how easily the mentally ill or the career criminal can get guns or mega-clips of ammunition in this country. Nothing was mentioned about what we might do as a society going forward to preemptively help the criminally insane before they go off on a deadly spree.
While the President did briefly mention illegal immigration and said, "I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows," he offered no specifics. I wondered why, if Mr. Obama was serious about dealing with the strain of illegals on our schools, hospitals, housing and social welfare offices, why hasn't his administration pushed specific legislation over the last two years?
I didn't hear a word about the growing problem of early release of convicts due to widespread prison overcrowding, the scourge of human trafficking, diminished state budgets for court systems to administer justice, the lack of funds for new police hires or forensic crime labs, the epidemic of illegal prescription drug abuse, fraud in the home mortgage industry or the ever growing problem of identity theft and cyber crime. All are major difficulties Americans deal with every day but none of it was deemed important enough for mention as a part of an address about the state of our union.
Since September 11, 2001 America hasn't felt like the secure cocoon I was raised to believe it would always be. Since the World Trade Towers collapsed, the Pentagon burned and brave souls perished on a plane in a Pennsylvania field there have been anthrax scares, multiple mass shootings at schools, frequent terror threats especially at airports, tens of thousands of citizens murdered ... I could go on and on.
Americans' sensibilities are raw with worry, worry about things we can't even imagine yet. Even the president said, during his address, "... As we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us" and he promised that the U.S. will keep the Taliban from re-establishing terror bases inside Afghanistan. In the scant two paragraphs Mr. Obama dedicated to address the continuing terror threat we face he failed to mention that he plans to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan this summer. Then what?
I'll go out here on a limb and say that every American is for reducing the massive federal deficit, creating more jobs, finding a new spirit of excellence in education and alternative energy development. We all agree our government needs a major restructuring overhaul - five agencies that handle housing problems? It's crazy! But none of that is achievable - innovation and reconciliation are impossible - if we're hunkered down feeling unsafe.
Everything the President said was vitally important; every topic he raised in his state of the union speech warrants serious consideration. But just as important is the need for every American to feel secure enough to venture out into the world to help spark the needed changes and to feel connected to the work that needs to be done.
I was looking for some reassurance and it wasn't there.
Diane Dimond can be reached through her web site: www.DianeDimond.com Her latest book, "Cirque Du Salahi" is available at Amazon.com