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THE STATE OF THE UNION IS A TALE OF TWO AMERICASBy Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.Wednesday, January 21, 2015
The State of the Union is a tale of two Americas. One America has unprecedented income, profits and wealth, while the other America’s real unemployment rate is over 11%, wages and income for basic workers are frozen in place, poverty is growing and the disparity in income and wealth between the haves and have-nots has not been this big since the Great Depression.
First, the American people must commend President Obama for what he has achieved in spite of Republican opposition that has resisted everything he has proposed and there is every indication that they will continue to oppose his proposals tonight. But his direction is sound and should be supported.
He proposes to eliminate the biggest tax loopholes and ensure that the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations pay their fair share. As the president knows, the top 1% and major corporations are enjoying a historic period of prosperity, while the wages of the average American family have flat-lined. He proposes to use the savings produced by these measures to reinvest in the education and other needs of the middle class. He is proposing to make the first two years at a community college free, which would include more students in economic need. After a record 58 months of continuous economic growth in which the official unemployment rate has fallen to 5.6%, he is focused on raising the minimum wage, lifting the income of average workers and providing paid sick days for all. The number of uninsured Americans is at an all-time low, health care costs are falling, in coalition with China he’s taken important steps toward curbing climate change and he has moved forward on reforming our immigration system. He has ended a U.S. fighting role in Iraq and Afghanistan, is gradually reducing the prisoners held in Guantanamo and taken dramatic steps to normalize relations with Cuba. He is challenging the huge sums of money in our politics fostered by the Citizens United decision and vows to protect voting rights. He has vowed to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for future generations.
Now that Republicans are in charge of the House and Senate they have wasted no time in attacking Social Security, attempting to derail President Obama’s immigration plan and destroy his achievement of the Affordable Care Act. Tomorrow, rather than respond to the positive agenda of President Obama, they will continue their negative agenda and vote to make abortion choice more difficult.
Second, however, the American people must also challenge President Obama on several fronts. We need a comprehensive urban policy. Tax hikes for the wealthy and tax cuts for the middle class do not address the zones of catastrophic housing foreclosures, vacant lots, poverty, dysfunctional schools, closing emergency rooms and hospitals, and urban abandonment present in today’s America. Dr. King was right - we need direct investments. President Obama must not only defend voting rights using the present “structure” of our voting system - states rights and local control. In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama announced a plan to convene a commission on improving the voting experience of Americans. Yet since then, 21 state legislatures have proposed and passed a range of laws that make it harder for some people to vote – including restrictive photo ID requirements, cuts to early voting and limitations on same-day registration. The President should support adding a right to vote amendment to the U.S. Constitution so that every American has, not just a “state right” to vote, but a fundamental individual citizenship right to vote, with Congress having the authority to establish a uniform national voting system with common sense minimum standards. The American people must also insist that the President fight for police reform that includes more than just car and body cameras.
So we must commend and challenge President Obama at the same time. Commend him for moving in the right direction and challenge him to do even more.