Looking Forward, Not Back

In his final State of the Union, President Obama lays out a vision to keep America great.

In His Final State of the Union, President Obama Lays Out A Vision To Keep America Great

In his final State of the Union Speech, President Obama challenged Congress and the American people to think beyond the final year of his presidency toward how to sustain American growth and greatness. Rather than giving the usual laundry list of policy proposals, the president used his speech to lay out a vision of hope, not just for this year, but for the future of the country. He focused on several issues on which we must build to continue the momentum of his administration. Here are just a few:

The Economy:

“For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that also works better for everybody. We’ve made progress, but we need to make more… Workers have less leverage for a raise…. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top. Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered…”

On many of the key economic issues President Obama highlighted, America is facing a crossroads. Unions continue to get attacked by conservatives, in states and in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case in front of the Supreme Court. But the facts are that unions help raise middle class incomes and increase economic mobility. And, despite growing income inequality, conservatives support cutting taxes for the wealthy few and gutting programs that keep struggling families afloat. As President Obama said in his State of the Union, “Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.” We need policies to make the economy work for everyone, not just the wealthy few.

“We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith…I believe that the American Dream should be possible for all no matter their faith.”

President Obama strongly condemned those who want to use hateful rhetoric against people or exclude them from entering this country because of their religion. It’s a matter of our values, and a matter of national security. Resettling refugees is a core American value and blocking refugees plays into the hands of extremism. And, Islamophobia and hateful speech has repercussions that put all innocent lives in danger. Rather than being a threat to national security, Muslim American communities have helped prevent more than one-third of Al Qaeda terrorist plots in the United States since 9/11.

Campaign Finance:
“I believe we have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around. We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections – and if our existing approach to campaign finance can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution. We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder, and modernize it for the way we live now. And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do.”

A central part of keeping America great is preserving our democracy. Amidst ongoing partisan efforts to rig Congressional districts in one party’s favor and laws that give the wealthy few undue influence over our political system, there is something President Obama can do right now to help ensure every voice counts: An executive order banning secret, unaccountable political money from federal contractors would affect nearly 70 percent of fortune 500 companies and end the appearance of pay-to-play for the billions of dollars’ worth of federal contracts.

Climate Change:
“Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.”

President Obama has made fighting climate change central to his legacy, establishing the Clean Power Plan—the strongest action taken domestically to fight global climate change – and helping negotiate a global climate deal agreed to by nearly 200 countries. But still there are conservative lawmakers across the country who continue to deny the science behind climate change and fight against implementing the Clean Power Plan. By doing so, they ignore not only the environmental necessity to protect our planet for future generations, but also the huge growth in the renewable energy industry and its immense contributions to building a sustainable economy.

BOTTOM LINE: We will always we working to make a more perfect union, but America is already great. President Obama’s two terms in office have resulted in a number of significant progressive accomplishments: From the Affordable Care Act to the Clean Power Plan to the longest streak of job growth in history. There is still plenty of work to be done this year to build on those successes. But looking farther ahead, there is also a lot at stake in determining what kind of country America will be in the years and decades to come.

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