The SOTU Obama should give tonight (but won’t)

Nick Fitzgerald Contributor
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Tonight, President Barack Obama will give his first State of the Union address. The following piece contains just some of what the president might say if he were being honest with himself and with the country in reviewing his first year in office. These words represent a move towards the middle for a president hell-bent on partisanship and unpopular policies. They speak, rather, of a rejection of partisanship and of reasoned, common-sense policies for a country so desperately in need of both.

Madam Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and my fellow Americans:

Last January I stood outside this historic building and took a sacred oath, armed with my principles and confident in my ability to deliver on the change and hope on which I campaigned. And though I failed to grasp this when I first took office, I understand now, a year later, that often we must adapt and sometimes completely alter the ways we originally intended to address the challenges before us. It is with this refreshed mentality that I come to you tonight to discuss the current state of our union.

The American economy is little improved from when I took office a year ago. Unemployment rates have risen well beyond what my administration’s top economic advisors assured the American people they would. Unfortunately, and despite our best intentions, the stimulus package has not worked. I know that many in my party will be disappointed to hear me say this, but, when the politics are removed, only the facts remain. And they are not positive.

The bottom line is that our current unemployment is well above 10 percent, and my administration promised you that it would not rise above 8 percent. Thus it can be said, fairly, that our initial plan to tackle the economy, and specifically unemployment, has failed.

We have put forward billions of dollars for a swath of unprecedented government spending programs that have ultimately proven ineffective. I ask the Congress to look plainly upon the matter—they will see, then, that none of the strategies we implemented to tackle the economic crisis have reduced our country’s unacceptable unemployment rate, nor have they improved the economic situation of the average American family. One could fairly argue that, in fact, they have made it worse.

These are the facts—and as president it is I who must take responsibility for them.

And let me be clear—the answer to our continuing economic problems is not more of the same.

Simply put, Americans need work. I will not rest until we cut our unemployment numbers by one-third before I see you again in a year. I will repeat that for the benefit of the members here tonight: in one year, when I address you in this chamber, I expect that we will have made it possible for one-third more Americans to have jobs.

I ask Congress to help accomplish this goal by lowering taxes on small business and investments; by reducing the capital gains tax to encourage the taking of calculated, responsible financial risk to grow our businesses and industries; and by keeping a watchful eye—not an iron fetter—on America’s financial markets.

And let me speak for a moment on transparency. While I was campaigning for president, I promised the American people no less than eight times that I would insist, without equivocation, that all debates and legislative processes surrounding the creation of the health care bill would be broadcast on C-SPAN for the benefit of the American people. I must now admit that I did not follow through on this promise.

Many of you in this chamber have accused my predecessor of running an administration shrouded in secrecy and lacking transparency. I second this notion. And I am telling you tonight, in no uncertain terms, that as long as I am president, history will be unable to accuse me of the same.

Therefore I would like to inform the Congress that, in the true name of the transparency on which I campaigned and for which I was elected, I will not sign any bill that comes to my desk that has not gone through a televised, public, formal conference process. Because democracy is more important that partisan politics, and because the people should only get this bill if they want it. That is the spirit of American government. And as elected representatives, we have nothing to hide from the American people.

Second only to the issues of the economy and transparency is our continuing struggle against radical extremism. The attempted attack on Christmas Day of last year has communicated to us that, despite my original and deeply-ingrained belief to the contrary, reason and mutual interest are impossible to attain with those who would wish to destroy our people and our way of life. As president, I have made it my duty to extend America’s open hand—not our clenched fist. And yet, still, we continue to be rebuffed by those who hate us.

It is now time to face reality.

To help protect Americans at home and abroad from threats like those which occurred on Christmas Day, I wish to announce a freeze on the closing of the American military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I have already ordered the halting or recalling of all deportments currently in progress. This policy will remain in place until our investigation yields further information into the Christmas Day bomber and until all of the leads obtained from that investigation have been fully pursued.

I know that this is not the course that many, including myself, had hoped for—but the circumstances have changed, and therefore our policies must also change. It would be irresponsible for my administration to chart a course based on information that no longer reflects the current reality of our national security concerns.

Rest assured, there will be a time when we can say, proudly, that we have shut down Guantanamo—but such action will only be possible when we are no longer threatened by poisonous extremism. To act with undue haste would fly in the face of my sworn duty to protect the American people and our Constitution.

Further, when I spoke at West Point a few months ago, I announced an increased redeployment of our troops to the mountains of Afghanistan to provide continued assistance in securing the country and defeating al-Qaida. At the time, I issued a tentative timetable for those troops’ withdrawal—and I see now that this may have been a hasty decision. After further consideration, and in light of recent attempts from al-Qaida to attack us again on our own soil, I believe now that such a hard-and-fast date for withdrawal will only embolden those we are trying to defeat. Further, it sends the wrong message to our troops overseas, our allies abroad, and, most importantly, to the American people here at home.

Finally, I would ask you, fellow citizens, to consider the words of another American president from Illinois: “A house divided cannot stand.” And so it is today.

We are an imperfect country, but a great one. Ours is the noble work of progress—we must redouble our efforts as a people to move boldly forward into this new age of American accomplishment. We have overcome challenges in the past through oneness of purpose and looking ahead to a common goal, and it is again time to rally behind this sense of unity that has brought us and kept us together throughout our nation’s storied history.

This is our path—the one that will lead us forward to a better and more hopeful tomorrow.

Thank you. Goodnight. And God bless the United States of America.

Nick Fitzgerald is a young public relations professional working in Washington, D.C. A classical music buff, he also authors a blog, Bach & Tonic, on politics, music, and culture.