It is fascinating that in his seventh year in office, we are finally seeing the Barack Obama many people voted for. The goal of closing Guantanamo is back, as are the goals of taxing the rich to help the middle class and the poor; securing paid sick leave for all employees; making going to college less expensive; opening up relations with Cuba; making it easier to open retirement accounts; using executive orders to speed immigration reform; helping the LGBT community; helping women; and making our society more open and equal.
While the president hasn't been able to change the atmosphere in Congress and hasn't been able to pass most of his programs beyond the Affordable Care Act, he is making a difference. The response from the Republican opposition in Congress is what opponents of any administration say; it doesn't matter if the executive is a governor, a mayor or a president. The opposition will blame them for anything bad and never give credit for anything good. The norm is to try to explain away any good that occurs as the natural state of things and any bad as the immediate result of a screw-up and bad policy.
The nation has come a long way since Barack Obama was elected in 2008. From a near depression, we are now seeing huge economic advances. Unemployment went from over 10 percent down to 5.6 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average went from 7,000 to nearly 18,000, and for the first time in decades, the manufacturing sector is adding jobs.
If the president's improving poll numbers are any indication, people are starting to understand that he is making a positive difference. Yet no one looking at the economy doesn't understand that while things are better, not everyone has benefited. Except for the top 1 percent, individual income hasn't gone up, and in some cases it's gone down. High-paying jobs are being replaced with lower-paying ones. Because of losses suffered in their retirement plans and fear that another crash could come at any time, older workers are staying in their jobs longer, making it harder for the next generation. CEO pay has skyrocketed and is at huge percentages over workers' pay. The inequality of income is greater than at any time since the Great Depression, and women are still not getting equal pay for equal work.
In view of all of this, the president seems to have found his voice again. He is being bolder with both executive orders and proposals to Congress, even knowing they likely won't pass. But aside from believing in them, there is another reason for the president to speak out. It is important for the public to understand what the people they recently elected to Congress will or won't do for them.
The president is doing what he couldn't in the midterm elections and ensuring that the poor and middle class understand in very clear terms who they should blame for keeping them from achieving upward mobility. The president's bold proposals, if turned down by Congress, will let them know in no uncertain terms that if you want things to change, you need to get rid of the Republican majorities.
Some will ask why these things couldn't get done in the president's first two years in office, when both houses of Congress were Democratic. It is arguably fair to point to the fight over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as the reason. The debate continues over whether that should have been the first fight or whether the first fight should have been for economic equality and jobs, leaving the ACA for the second term. Some suggest that the healthcare fight took the air out of progress on all other economic issues that were important. But hindsight is easy, and no one can argue how crucial it is to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable and good health care. Because of the president's fight, millions more Americans have that. Since those first two years the president has faced a more adversarial Congress, with some of its leaders publicly saying they would do anything to keep him from having any successes.
So today, as he makes his sixth State of the Union speech, the president faces a solidly Republican Congress, and he never has to face the electorate again. So we are seeing a stronger and more forceful president than ever before. He is challenging Congress to act and outlining again the principles he ran on in 2008. This is Barack Obama unleashed.
We must hope that, after the speech, he will follow up with individual invitations to members of Congress to come to the White House to talk about his proposals. He needs to do the wheeling and dealing required if any of them is to pass. The president likes to quote Lincoln, which is admirable; now he needs to channel Lyndon Johnson.