In my first blog post of the new year, I think it’s only appropriate that I look ahead to what 2014 holds for the world of American politics. I could dwell on the gridlock, scandals or political discord of the past year, but I think a fresh start is in order. Luckily for me, the president is also looking ahead.
After suffering a rather dismal 2013 mired by Republican attempts to thwart his agenda and a disastrous roll-out of his signature health care program, President Obama addressed the nation last week in the annual State of the Union Address. While he looks older and more tired than he did five years ago when he first took office, the president laid out an ambitious agenda. Needless to say, I have a few comments to make.
I’d like to begin with aspects of the president’s vision that I agree with. This State of the Union, like all others before it, contained a significant number of no-brainer arguments designed to elicit applause from Congress. Women deserve equal pay for equal work and public education should be the base of equal opportunity? What novel concepts! Sarcasm aside, the president did make some salient points about steps the government can take to make the country stronger and more economically competitive.
I wholeheartedly agree with President Obama that the tax code as a whole — particularly corporate taxes — needs to be reformed. Our tax code is not only dense and convoluted, but also archaic. Redesigning the tax code and lowering corporate taxes would have significant, positive impacts on the economy and help to restore the American people’s faith in Congress.
Additionally, President Obama is justified in calling for Congress to work to improve the nation’s infrastructure. This will create jobs and maintain the solvency of the transportation system that the American people rely on. He also spoke of his achievements in securing access to high speed internet for students through partnerships with corporations. I applaud these efforts and his calls for a climate more conducive to economic investment. However, if you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you can probably anticipate that I also have a few areas of disagreement with the president.
The president stated that “wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.” While I admire his commitment to helping the American people, I’m also deeply concerned about the aforementioned statement. First and foremost, I think the president is overstepping his boundaries as defined by the Constitution. The American Founders very deliberately established a separation of powers and tasked the executive branch with enforcing the law. The President has stated that he “intend[s] to keep trying, with or without Congress” to enact measures related to gun control and other issues. Quite simply, this is not the way the federal government was designed to operate, and I believe that the president is engaging in executive overreach.
President Obama should lead by working with Congress to address issues that he views as important. By threatening to work around Congress, President Obama is actively making the state of American politics more contentious and contributing to a corrosive political climate fueled by a lack of communication. The three branches of government were meant to work together, and the way to deal with gridlock is to lead by example and work towards compromise, not to circumvent factions you may not agree with. Instead of issuing ultimatums, the president should reach out to congressional Republicans and offer to be involved in the process of drafting and revising legislation.
Furthermore, President Obama frequently claims that he has worked to end two American wars, and he stated during the State of the Union that “we will complete our mission [in Afghanistan] by the end of this year.” Meanwhile, in early January, Al Qaeda militants seized the city of Fallujah. Not only does rule by a militant Islamist organization threaten Afghanistan, it threatens overall stability in the Middle East. Is this your idea of an accomplished mission, Mr. President? Similarly, the President spoke of his plans to close the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay. This call may sound familiar, because he used it quite often in 2008. A tip to the president’s speechwriters: try to avoid mentions of failed policy goals that probably won’t be changing anytime soon. Lastly, the president stated that “America must move off a permanent war footing” and said that future use of drones would be more responsible. I’ll believe it when I see it, Mr. President.
The president laid out his ambitious vision for 2014, and I’ll be keenly watching to see how much of it comes to pass. I wish the president the best of luck in attempting to better the lives of the American people, but I’m afraid I disagree with him about how it is best accomplished. That’s the nature of politics in 2014, I suppose, just as it has been forever.