State of the Union focuses more on equality, less on debt

By: Connor Mabon – Opinions Editor

On a night when green numbers dominated the stock market, President Barack Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union Address on Jan. 28, leaning heavily on income equality and economic opportunity for all.

With an overtly optimistic tone given the multitude of recent scandals and controversies, Obama laid out a populist agenda narrow in its scope, but profound in its implications.

With or without Congress
Echoing throughout the chamber were calls to make 2014 a “year of action” encouraging a gridlocked Congress to make progress on pertinent issues. If momentum to do so fails to gain traction, the president announced he would act unilaterally using executive orders. Those measures will most likely include raising the minimum wage for workers on federal contracts to $10.10 and fast-tracking immigration reform.

“In the past when the President called for bipartisanship in the State of the Union he was met by a brick wall. Whether or not this strategy backfires on President Obama is not as easy to assess,” said Nancy Miller, a political science professor at the University of Dayton. “[But] the president has shown that this was not an empty threat.”

Now, executive orders are not unique to Obama. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman have all used executive orders, which demonstrate their historical significance. The threat of bypassing the gauntlet that is Congress, though, has stirred the opposition’s hornet’s nest. Members of the Republican Party view Obama’s attempt at unilateral action as a gross abuse of federal power.

Obama has disappointed
“In 2008 he was supposed to be this ‘Great Unifier’ of the two parties but then years later a 16 day government shutdown happened. If he has to resort to executive action I don’t see that as uniting,” said Elaine Laux, a sophomore political science major and president of the UD College Republicans. “I want to know from my president what are the problems, how is he going to address them, and what is his plan of action. I felt it was a lot of empty rhetoric.”

Sharing similar sentiment, Daniel Zink, a marketing major and president of the UD College Libertarians, said Libertarians believe Obama’s want to avoid congressional approval infringes upon the checks and balance system.

“The way [the speech] actually ran seemed more like a political campaign event,” Zink said. “The problem we have with big government programs is that, whether you agree with them or not, you have to oblige. In general [Libertarians] support a free market approach to things and freedom of choice.”

The economy is improving
By contrast, the Democrats feel as if their initiatives have helped get the economy back on track. The government said last week that the economy grew 3.2 percent as of last quarter in 2013 after it experienced the strongest consumer spending in three years, according to a report released by the Associated Press. Economists are predicting this trajectory will roughly continue through 2014.

“I think the underlying assumption is that virtually nothing got done this last year and it’s especially unlikely, given that it’s an election year, that anything major will get done,” said Ethan Kissock, a political science major and president of the UD College Democrats. “If anything major does get done, it’s going to be immigration reform, which was one of the points Obama made during his speech.”

Gem City implications
Obama’s remarks on immigration have significant meaning for our community. Dayton city officials have adopted an immigrant-friendly policy, which according to Police Chief Richard Biehl in his recent submission to Roll Call, “has shown us that immigrant-friendly policies help to build small businesses, create jobs and spur innovation, while also stimulating the local housing market.”

It will be an uphill battle
Presidents are known to be the lightning rod recipient of criticism, but by demonstrating to the American public his willingness to “restore the promise” of opportunity for all, Obama may be able to calm the storm of public and political tension lingering over his administration.