On Tuesday President Obama will travel to the Capitol for the time-honored tradition of addressing a joint session of Congress to deliver the State of the Union address. When he walks down the aisle of the chamber of the House of Representatives, he will approach the podium a President no longer burdened by the prospects of re-election and making history as the first African-American to hold the office and be re-elected. President Obama also has the right to claim a mandate, scoring a significant victory last November from an electorate that supported his economic message.
It is clear in the last few months that the nation is moving toward recovery, with consecutive months of strong job growth and 2012 jobs numbers revised to reflect better than expected economic performance. Even African-American unemployment, stubbornly high, showed a slight decline in January. There is still much work to be done as millions of Americans are now long-term unemployed and their prospects remain dim in an economy that is showing little mercy on older workers looking for employment.
We hope the President will make jobs one of the centerpieces of his message Tuesday night and will take a step further and speak truthfully and forcefully to economic inequality in America. His focus on strengthening the middle class is understandable and correct in the larger context of the nation’s future, but the President must also acknowledge that we must do more to assist those living in poverty; including the working poor. We are not advocating a new wave of federal programs targeting the poor, in fact many of those in existence need to be evaluated for their effectiveness and either retooled or replaced with more effective measures. Our hope is that the President will be consistent with his larger message – the federal government must invest and the private sector must respond and be accountable to the nation’s economic crisis. This also means being held accountable for discriminatory practices in the labor market that persist to this day.
On Saturday First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett were among mourners at the funeral of slain Chicago teenager Hadiya Pendleton. The 15 year-old honor roll student was killed by random gunfire as she stood in a Chicago park. Her death symbolizes the persistence of gun violence in our nation’s cities, with Chicago standing out for the degree to which children and young adults have been cut down. In the shadow of other acts of gun violence, the attendance of representatives of the President at Hadiya’s service is a turning point in the conversation on guns, violence and death in our community. The gun control debate cannot be isolated to a guttural response to mass killings in places like Newtown, Connecticut and the campus of Virginia Tech University, and overlook the daily slaughter of children in our cities who are being mowed down by singular acts of cowardice. The President must make clear that our nation respects the lives of children more than a misconstrued right to bear arms, and will take whatever steps necessary to protect the innocent and bring the irresponsible to justice.
This President has been criticized by some for not doing enough for African-Americans. He has been accused of betraying the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We think those criticisms are not critiques but misinformed blame that fails to take into account the tremendous burden President Obama inherited and the historical weight of his groundbreaking election to office. Like any President, he should be critiqued but not in the absence of the consideration of the context of his presidency and the role that Congress plays in making the laws of our country. To place the burden of change wholly on the President is neither fair nor reflective of the true nature of our democratic form of government.
To that end, we hope President Obama will not go for partisan applause in his address Tuesday night, and deliver a speech that focuses on the truth of the moment and challenges our nation to rise to the occasion to build a better future. What we need now more than ever is a real leader; unafraid to confront the ills of our society and fearless in the face of resistance to change. We still believe that President Obama has the opportunity to be that leader and hope he will use his second term to set our nation on a course of human renewal and triumph.
The State of the Union will be carried live at 9 pm on February 12 over the major television networks, public television and the cable television news networks. The whitehouse.gov website will stream the speech live with enhanced charts and data to complement the President's speech.