A tall, tall order

January 26, 2011

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Did you listen to President Obama's State of the Union address? I didn't. As I have explained in years past, I prefer to read the transcript of the address first thing the morning after and form my own opinion, without being swayed by delivery; audience reactions (the transcript I read did indicate applause points); camera pans to attending politicians, dignitaries, and citizens mentioned in the speech; and the seemingly endless stream of analyses that follow. 

Although I avoided what I imagine was a moving delivery and those camera shots that tug at the heartstrings of all but the most cynical among us, I felt tears welling up as I reached the end of the transcript.

In my opinion, the President covered all the bases and said all the right things, as most do in their addresses. After mentioning the tragedy in Tucson and the "noise and passion and rancor of our public debate" that might have contributed to it, and after noting that "we (Democrats and Republicans) will move forward together, or not at all," he dived right in to talking about what undoubtedly is the No. 1 concern for the average American — jobs. 

The latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that during December 2010, the unemployment rate rose in 20 states, fell in 15, and stayed the same in another 15 — not much different from November's report. Payroll jobs fell in 35 states in December; only 15 states reported gains.

Obama said, "Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn't always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you'd have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you'd even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company. 

"That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I've seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I've heard it in the frustrations of Americans who've seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear — proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game." 

Glad the President addressed this, but he's preaching to the choir. And the ensuing ideas about how we will create jobs are the same ideas that have been thrown around for the past couple of years — investing in infrastructure and green energy; fostering innovation; increasing exports; enforcing trade policies; and revising the corporate tax system to "get rid of the loopholes." 

Obama also addressed education; health-care reform, global affairs, defeating "determined enemies," and the national debt — proposing a five-year freeze on domestic spending. 

He gave a shout-out to the troops: "Let us serve them as well as they've served us — by giving them the equipment they need, by providing them with the care and benefits that they have earned, and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation." (While the national unemployment rate dropped 0.4 percent in December to 9.4 percent, the jobless rate for those who served in the Armed Forces since September 2001 rose from 10 percent to 11.7.) 

And finally, the President spoke about the American Dream and said, "We're a nation that says, 'I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.' 'I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.' 'I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.' 'I'm not sure how we'll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we'll get there. I know we will.' 

"We do big things.

"The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it's because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong." 

What came to mind as I reached the end of the speech and wiped my eyes was an hour spent in a meeting in 1995 with engineers, salespeople, and the president of a small business that was attempting to enter the motions controls market. I had just begun working for the company, and the president thought it would be a good orientation experience for me to sit in on the meeting. I listened as the engineers talked about the product status — where things stood, what needed to be done, and when all tasks could be accomplished. 

The list of action items was daunting, and the projected completion date wasn't that far away. Not realizing that I can, on occasion, be very candid, the president of the company turned to me and asked what I thought about what I was hearing. I replied, "I don’t see how all of this possibly can be done by (the date)." You could have heard a pin drop — or a pink slip. Thankfully, I did not receive the latter. Unfortunately, my observation was correct. And the company folded a few months later.

I hope I'm wrong this time, but I don’t foresee the fruition of many of the goals outlined in the State of the Union any time soon. And one of the greatest obstacles — in my opinion — is the government's internal politics. I'm fed up with it, and I'm fed up with special interest groups that sway our lawmakers' votes. The best interests of "we the people," who elected these politicians in good faith (and sometimes because we had no better choice), and the health of our country should be their only influences. 

I'm all for checks and balances and presenting and examining all sides of an issue. Constructive, productive debate is great. Stalemate and stagnation aren't. 

Do I think the government can put politics aside and come together to enact beneficial legislation in a timely manner? I guess anything is possible, but it's a tall, tall order, and I have my doubts.

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