The State of the Union: If I Could Respond

by Jeff Swanson


While I think Marco Rubio did a fine job with the State of the Union response, I guess we all have our own version of what we’d say. If I’d been given that chance, what follows is my brief version:

Good Evening.

Tonight we mark the beginning of a new presidential term. While the president was recently inaugurated, tonight we are given the vision of President Obama’s future for America. I congratulate the president on his win for a second term and I pray for the prosperity for the future of our nation as I know President Obama wishes for the same.

Tonight we heard the vision of the Obama Adminstration. In tonight’s State of the Union, the president’s roadmap for the next four years has been laid before the American people. We as Americans must decide if the president’s vision is the vision of prosperity or of a nation given to mediocrity and division.

As the son of a single mother, I saw first hand and lived within the vestiges of a challenging economic environment. I was lucky to have experienced those days. Without them, I would not be a fraction of the person I am today. I rose each day, not to a life of privilege, but a life just hanging on to the smallest of threads waiting to unravel us from the edges of middle class America.

My mother, one of the most pleasant people you’ll ever meet, had an unyielding spirit. When life, money or health tested her will, she didn’t shy away. With quiet resolve, she overcame these challenges.

We were a team.

When money was tight, decisions had to be made. Where would the sacrifice lie? These decisions were not about skipping a dinner out. We needed to make decisions about running a household. Big decisions. And yes, I did say ‘We’. My mother included my sister and myself in these decisions. It was an invaluable life lesson.

It was a great time in my life. My memories are fond. She taught me the best way to face a challenge is to meet it as a strong, unified team.

Tonight the president gave America a message wrapped in this same ideal. Tonight he told us we must put the nation’s interests before party, that Americans expect us to forge reasonable compromise and that America moves forward only when we do so together.

I challenge the president to put actions to those words and I ask the American people to hold him to that promise. This will, however, mark a change in the administration’s mode of operation.

Recently, congress struggled over the so-called fiscal cliff. Republicans offered a number of proposals. Our president lacked the willingness to entertain any. Republicans offered to even the tax code and remove loopholes that allow the wealthy to finesse their taxes and pay a lesser percentage than the average tax paying American. The president, until recently, was not interested.

Republicans offered proposals that would not have hiked the payroll tax on all working Americans. Today, all working Americans pay an additional two percent to the government. The payroll tax, as all Americans now know, was not a tax on the wealthy but on everyone.

The president had only aspired to raise taxes on the wealthy. It was his single note and remains til today the only real path of fiscal reform the president will entertain.

Tonight, President Obama told us that we cannot cut our way to prosperity. The president is right if only by that statement alone. No nation can cut its way to prosperity. Prosperity comes in the form of economic growth.

Today, the amount of debt the United States government owes is greater than the total of every dollar earned and spent last year by every citizens and business. All the money spent and earned by business and our citizens, every transactions is part of what we call GDP, Gross Domestic Product. We don’t have enough money to pay our debt. If GDP is 100% of our economy, our debt now hangs at greater than 101%.

President Obama, while telling our congressional leaders that we don’t have a spending problem, appears blind to historical data the tells us that any time a nation goes past the 90% debt mark, the result is a slowing of economic growth.

Growth is prosperity. You may not be able to cut your way to prosperity but in the current state of the nation, it must be part of the equation or America might never again prosper.

Unfortunately, the president’s address did not offer hope to our nation’s business sector. He could have held an olive branch to a private sector that has been beleaguered by reams of new regulation. By an uncertainty in taxes and regulation; that instead of spending money on new equipment and technology, investments that create jobs, our private sector will hold that investment capital for a rainy day.

The president sees these as record profits. A company that is unwilling to spend its money to grow business is a company that’s worried and a company that is not hiring new workers.

In the address, President Obama called for the business sector to voluntary contribute to the infrastructure they use. The private sector is not investing in itself, there’s an unlikelyhood that roads and bridges will be adopted.

By contrast, the president suggested that the answer to the problems our nation faces today is answered by the government. By government programs.

Our government does have a responsibility to its citizens when they need help the most.

Our government should not be in the business of deciding favorite industries or favored businesses. President Obama told us that we must invest in a green energy future. Without question, I would like to see a green energy future where our prosperity is not tied to a fossil fuel and more over, our independence from overseas sellers.

Yet, when our president tells us we need an ‘all the above’ approach, as he has often said,  his solution is to support a favorite industry. He told about the growth in wind and gains in solar. He told us that we must do as China and go ‘all-in’.

President Obama would have done well to tell Americans that even in China, where labor costs are low, solar manufacturing costs are too great to sustain and a number of Chinese companies have failed in this industry despite government support.

Yes, Mr. President, I too would like a green energy future but we cannot mortgage today in the hope of a future state. A future state that may not materialize. Until that day, we may need to drill. Not on the contracts passed by your predecessor. Not on the drilling from private enterprises but on federal lands with federal licenses.

The greatest tax and the poor, the greatest harm done to our out-of-work neighbors looking for a job; is the tax of increased cost at the pump. By your administration’s failure to allow for any new drilling contracts, the cost of gas has nearly doubled because supply is limited. Adding sixty or seventy dollars to the monthly budget can be a make or break for many Americans. If you add the effects of fuel cost on consumer goods, the average American family is spending much more for the same goods from only a few years ago.

Tonight the president explained the benefits of supporting education. I agree. America has long held the value of a good education at a premium. Some of the worlds finest schools are within our borders.

By spending twice as much on education as we did, in like dollars, forty years ago, we have not gained anything in education quality. I do not suggest that we defund education. It should be understood that the value we receive from institutions is not equally improved by giving more money. More money has only succeeded in increasing the cost of education.

School choice, competition and most importantly, a curriculum that focuses on the basis of knowledge first and the repetition it takes to get there. You can only perfect a craft when you repeat it. Federal programs to create curricula will be a panacea for our politicians to show they care. That they are doing something for our children. The reality is; none of it will do much.

I support teachers and the selflessness with which the perform their job. I do not worry that our teachers are overpaid. I do worry that our teachers are being whipped about by the whims of a political will that only exists for re-election.

America did not have an education problem fifty years ago whether in the small towns or inner-city. We only had a problem when Washington DC said we had a problem.

Mr. President, we both have hope for America but we have very different views of what that America is.

I do not see an America where the government is an answer to all issues that face us.

Tonight in your State of the Union address, you outlined an America where this same government is central to most every intiative. If not central, you suggest a partnership.

Let me be clear; our government has an abysmal record as a partner. The so-called fat cats you oft referred to during your campaign are the leaders of corporations that your administration favors. The very people you decry profit from your largesse.

If you wish to see an America with opportunity, stop favoring any corporation or industry.

Our nation’s lack of confidence, our apathy for the political process is directly derived from the corrupt corporate favoritism in our political process. You decried the top one percent as a campaigner. It is, perhaps, worth looking at the over fifty percent of congress that are millionaires. That average wealth of a congressperson guaranties entry in to the very one percent you spoke of.

I am not worried about the wealth of any American. I would suggest Mr. President that the very reason why government is not the answer to America’s problems is that the hands at the switch are more focused on self-enrichment and less on the real problems of Americans.

The takers in our nations are not the business owners or the CEO’s. The takers are the politicians who take the hard earned money of the working class and pretend that it will be used in a responsible manner understanding that this is the last thing that will happen.

This is the reality. Until Americans can return to self determination, the ills we talk about today will remain as such, our nations ills.

Your vision of America leaves us vulnerable, not stronger or better.

Thank you.

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