President Obama had two choices for his penultimate State of the Union speech: Concession or Confrontation. A concessionary speech would acknowledge that he is a lame duck and prescribe what polices he may allow without a veto. It would challenge the Republican majority on their unpopular ideas (just to remind the American people that they are unpopular), but spend most of the time taking part ownership in inevitability (lower taxes, less regulation).
That was not the speech we heard last night. We heard the "Confrontation" speech. President Obama, with nary a wink of a chance of having any of those policy prescriptions passed, outline a skeletal platform for the Democratic Party based on the concerns of the middle class.
Set around the narrative of a newlywed working class/lower-middle class family who lost their jobs with the housing collapse, President Obama described nearly every structural obstacle that impeded class mobility in the 21st Century. And if you have not run into these obstacles, chances are you aren't middle class (congratulations).
Childcare - "In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us."
It's written far and wide that the reason we don't feel the true depth and distance of the wealth gap is because we've transitioned from families with one primary bread-winners to two. How many of us grew up in a household where one parent (normally the Dad) brought home the vast majority of the income, yet wonder at how that would ever be possible today? That is what the President was addressing.
With that as a premise, it is important that we have accessible child-care for all families. That doesn't mean free and it doesn't mean that there isn't some sacrifice involve in having a child. But it shouldn't impoverish new parents. The President's plan is to expand the availability of childcare and offer a $3,000/per child tax cut.
Paid Sick Leave - "Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers."
That line speaks for itself. The President asked for a bill to assure all Americans have the opportunity to earn seven days paid sick leave. Seven days. "It's the right thing to do", indeed.
Equal Pay for Equal Work - "That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time."
At this point in the speech, Jane turned to me and said "Why aren't those people [Republicans] clapping?" Oh, I imagine a lot of people wondered that. (She also asked whether Boehner uses a tanning bed, which resulted in me spending some time on Google and finding out that he firmly denies using a tanning bed, claiming that he "plays golf, mows his own grass" and that is what causes his leathery glow).
Minimum Wage - "And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise."
Another overwhelmingly positive initiative that would help millions of American families for which there is zero Republican support.
Free Community College - "Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible. I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today."
We're going to see higher education change dramatically over the next ten years. It is on an entirely unsustainable path. This may be the first step.
The President went on to request things like a bipartisan infrastructure plan, action on climate change, and a description of his path forward on foreign policy, but these items are a given for the State of the Union. In order and priority, President Obama put the middle class first.
Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!