As President Obama preps for this State of the Union Address, I thought I’d share some topics that I’d love to see him attack head-on. Of course, I’d be delusional to think that he can or should hit all of these issues during one speech, but I figured we could lay out an African American buffet of ideas that the president could tap into as he discusses America’s future. Here you are, Mr. President, I hope this helps:
1) Poverty: Last year, you were the first Democratic President since Harry S. Truman not to mention poverty during your State of the Union Address. Please don’t make that mistake again. Poor people do exist, no matter how much we think we can wish them away, and they must become part of the conversation. If you can’t bring poor people to the table, then this gives every future president an excuse to ignore them as well.
2) Existing threats to American civil liberties: Your signature on the National Defense Authorization Act was probably one of the most un-American decisions made during your presidency. The provision allowing Americans to be held indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism is simply frightening. I can’t imagine how many lives will be ruined forever as a result of this new law. Your liberal base may never forgive you for this one.
3) Poverty, again: Oh yeah – I know I mentioned poverty earlier Mr. President, but I’d like to make one more point if I may. Income inequality is a huge problem along both racial and non-racial lines. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow and the wage of the American worker has remained stagnant as corporate profits continue to shoot through the roof. All of this creates a clear recipe for an unstable society and endangers the future of our country.
4) Our uneducated children (and adults): You’ve done a good job of emphasizing the importance of fixing our dysfunctional school systems. You might also be able to gain a few points by helping families deal with the spiraling cost of college education and massive student loan debt. The inflation of educational costs has become too much for most families to bear.
5) Keeping America healthy: Everything I just said about educational costs growing out of control, make that ditto for healthcare. Americans can’t afford to get sick anymore, especially if they don’t have jobs. With more and more Americans facing the despair of joblessness, the future becomes an economic abyss with no hope in sight.
6) The justice system, more particularly, the prison industrial complex: Mr. President, there are millions of black men who look just like you and are just as intelligent as you, rotting away in America’s prisons under unjust drug laws from the Reagan years. Perhaps it’s time to end modern day slavery and seek out serious reform.
7) Poverty, just one more time: Oh yea Mr. President, I hate beating a dead horse, but I’d like to mention one more thing about poverty. Did you know that the wealth gap between blacks and whites has actually increased during your presidency? I’m not sure if the dream of a first black president included such a grim reality. This problem is not as much of a reflection on you as it is on our nation’s long-standing commitment to butt-naked racism, but still, we must all face the issue head-on and not simply avoid the matter by arguing that the “rising tide will lift all boats.”
8) Putting America back to work: We know that when it comes to getting elected, job creation is one of the most important keys to success. Thus far, your work on job creation has been mediocre at best. America needs a strong vision for its economic future. This is the year that I expect the economic tide to turn for our country, and this could keep you in the White House for another four years. Let’s hope they are another four years of strong change for the country and not just another episode of self-absorbed, highly symbolic, political cronyism among the Havard/Chicago political elite.
9) The deficit: The spiraling national debt is one of the most serious economic problems facing our government today. Republicans blame your spending, but they are incorrect in this assessment. Raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans is the only way to solve this problem, not taking support away from the most vulnerable. The divisiveness of American politics gives a grim prediction on whether this problem can ever be solved, but it must at least be laid on the table for discussion in hopes that we can find a way to deal with it without allowing wealthy fat cats to walk away without responsibility.
10) Guts: You’ve become a better president over the past two years. You’re maturing right before our eyes. You seem to understand more clearly that some of your enemies will never learn to like you, and that Americans are more willing to withstand a bad leader than a weak one. I’d love to see a voice and vision that communicates that you are the tough leader that America deserves – one who can maintain the moral high ground and still be tough enough to stand up to a racist bully like Newt Gingrich. Being the first black president is not for the faint of heart, and not everyone wants to hold hands and sing “we shall overcome.”
So, taking a stand for what is right can go a long way….and it might even be ok to admit that you’re a black man who seeks to confront some of the ills of racial inequality in America. Some in our community want to compare you to Martin Luther King. But we must remember that Dr. King said and did what was right, even when it wasn’t popular. That, my friend, takes courage.
Good luck Mr. President, we’ll be watching.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.
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