President Obama had a daunting task ahead of him when he approached the podium to give his 2014 State of the Union speech on January 28.
The media labeled 2013 the worst year of his Presidency so far, and have said that the American people are cynical and frustrated with the political climate.
With his trademark humor and unwavering confidence, he outlined several goals that only a collaborative effort between himself, Congress, and American citizens can achieve.
President Obama was adamant about the need for equality in employment and for a higher minimum wage.
Since the last time he presented the issue, five states have raised their minimum wages and several businesses have done so on their own. He encouraged business leaders to continue the trend and raise their own employees’ wages.
“Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty,” he said. “To every mayor, governor, and state legislator in America, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act.”
On equality, he reiterated a well-known fact: Women make only $0.77 for every dollar that a man earns in the workforce.
“That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A woman deserves a day off to care for a sick child, and a man does too. It is time to do away with employment policies that belong in a Mad Men episode,” he said.
Of course, the young people in America need a pathway to an effective and affordable education.
As he’s done in the past, the President emphasized that one of the best investments that can be made in a child’s life is a high quality early education, and he said that every four-year-old has the right to attend pre-Kindergarten. He stressed that enough children aren’t being reached in time, and that needs to change.
He described an initiative that connects companies and community colleges, so that the latter can design programs that train students specifically for jobs that businesses need to fill, with the goal being well-trained graduates who can immediately enter the field they know best.
He had to address the elephant in the room, naturally—healthcare.
Hot on the heels of the government shutdown caused by unending healthcare debates, President Obama defended the Affordable Care Act. More than 3 million young citizens have gained coverage under their parents, and 9 million people have signed up for Medicare. No American can ever be dropped or denied coverage because of a preexisting condition, and no woman can ever be charged more simply because she is a woman.
“I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law,” he quipped (laughter followed that one). “But the American people are not interested in fighting old battles. Let’s not repeal a vote that’s already helping millions.”
He spent a significant amount of time on national security.
More than 60,000 troops are already home from Afghanistan, and he promised that by the end of 2014, the mission there will be complete. Afterwards, the United States will support a united Afghanistan, and, under a security agreement signed by both nations, Americans will remain there with NATO allies assisting Afghan forces and fighting terrorism.
He explained that the threat has evolved as Al Qaeda networks are taking root in other parts of the world, and America must remain vigilant. He added that Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and that Iran’s nuclear program has been halted for the first time in a decade as negotiations continue.
Hinting at the recent conflicts surrounding the National Security Agency, he vowed that he would reform the country’s surveillance programs so that the privacy of ordinary people would not be violated.
Unfortunately, he didn’t spend much time speaking about immigration reform, despite its escalating importance. He only said that the immigration system needs to be repaired this year, that Republicans and Democrats alike want changes, and that those changes would mean a reduction in the budget deficit.
“The America we want for our kids, the rising America where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all goes as far as our dreams and toil will take us—none of it is easy. But if we work together, if we summon what is best in us, I know it is within our reach,” he concluded.
So will opportunity and equality, the major themes of his speech, be the themes of 2014?
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