In the traditional presidential State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama outlined a “plan of action” of what he wanted to accomplish with or without the partnership of a recalcitrant Congress.
The president spoke of how, while the stock market has surged after four years of economic growth, “those at the top have never done better but average wages have barely budged”. Upward mobility has stalled he said and there are “too many working just to get by and too many not working at all”. Stating that the job of his office and the congress is to change that, the president spoke of actions he would take. Among them, acknowledging that Congress is not inclined to increase the minimum wage, the president is issuing an “executive order” that future government contractors will have to pay a minimum wage of $10.10/hr., and that he was committed to creating “new ladders of opportunity into the middle class”, which would include “high-quality pre-K available to every four-year-old”.
The president also introduced MyRA: “It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg”, and defended the Affordable Care Act, saying “Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans (under age 26) have gained coverage under their parents’ plans. More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage”.
Staying with the Affordable Care Act and taking the fight to the Republicans he said “And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors”.
Internationally, the president cited that all U.S. troops are out of Iraq and 60,000 were out of Afghanistan. “At the end of this year, America’s longest war will finally be over.” And once again, we heard that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed. That one we’ll have to wait and see.
The president also spoke of “reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential”. There were no details on what that initiative is, but we hope to see them in the days ahead.
By far, the emotional highlight of the speech was when the president spoke of an Army Ranger sitting next to Michelle Obama. “I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th Anniversary of D-day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program – a strong, impressive young man with an easy manner, sharp as a tack. We joked around and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch. A few months later, on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, facedown, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.
For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day.
Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.
“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”
“Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.” This was a very special moment in the highly polarized chamber as this young man received a sustained and teary ovation, and we wished it meant the troops would be home earlier.
By David Mark Greaves