While ordinary Americans struggled to keep their jobs and pay their bills, Washington was engrossed in the pomp and ceremony of President Obama’s fifth State of the Union address.
As people in flyover country wondered how much longer they’d be able to keep health care plans they like (if they hadn’t lost them already), their elected representatives and the media obsessed over celebrity sightings, seat pairings and who sat along the aisle all day so they could touch the hem of the President’s garment.
Obama packed his speech with real-world examples of how well he thought his agenda performed or was needed. But did these examples really make his case? Was it a speech about leadership — or pure politics?
Andra Rush was one presidential success story. She opened up a manufacturing firm in Detroit. Obama attributed Rush’s success to workers she got through a government job training program. Unfortunately, he felt this gave him license to introduce yet another government job training initiative. This initiative, interestingly, would allegedly reform the 47 current federal jobs programs. While Andra seemingly fared well, it’s hard to believe that every business seeking skilled workers did what she did and shared her good fortune.
In its 2012 Talent Shortage Survey, the ManPower Group, a global staffing organization, reported that 49 percent of U.S. employers cannot fill jobs due to a lack of available talent. In 2012, the unemployment rate never went below seven percent. Why the gap? Too many looking for work lack the necessary skills.
So streamlining federal job training might be a good initiative. But was this a central thrust of Obama’s address? It was not nearly as important as the crusade for increasing the minimum wage. The president reserved his political capital for partisan class warfare.
Obama also introduced us to Estiven Rodriguez, the son of a factory worker who didn’t know any English at the age of nine. Rodriguez went from those humble beginnings to being accepted into college. While Rodriguez deserves congratulations, fewer are joining him. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education, undergraduate enrollment in colleges and universities dropped for the first time in decades in the fall of 2011. Undergraduate enrollment increased at a faster rate between 2000 and 2009 than during the 1980s and the 1990s.
Perhaps these trends have something to do with exploding tuition — up a whopping 1,120 percent since 1978, according to Bloomberg Media.
Unfortunately, Obama’s only plan to address this tragedy is to make borrowing easier — allowing more students to leave college with the albatross of crushing debt.
Why doesn’t the president intervene in the education-industrial complex like he does with other business sectors? Obama’s disengagement on education costs is like telling minimum wage workers he’ll going to make it easier for them to get credit cards. Why exert influence to intervene with one problem while subsidizing another?
Finally, the president introduced Amanda Shelley. She used the health care exchanges to sign up for coverage on January 1, reportedly avoiding bankruptcy when she needed emergency surgery just days later. While her story is encouraging, Calvin Woodward of the Associated Press estimates that 4 million people lost coverage due to new Obamacare requirements as of the end of 2013.
It’s ironic that Obama chose to use Shelley as an example, since her plan avoided the full brunt of a catastrophic event. So many people had their plans cancelled simply because they only provided bare-bones, catastrophic coverage.
President Obama’s State of the Union deserved an “A” in Politics 101. While Obama administration policies appear to underperform in the larger metric, he nonetheless found emotional, human examples of the exceptions that gained or made strides despite his policies.
Unfortunately, at this point, America needs a leader who can pull an “A” in Leadership 101.