State of the Union

MellaneoussquareGreat speech – now what are you going to do?

Every year for as long as I can remember, the president of the U.S. gives a speech to us that is designed to make the working person feel as if the government works on their behalf. Of course it kind of does, but not really.

Nothing ever really changes. The government churns along for the benefit of the wealthy, the big banks, the captains of industry and corporations. However, every once in a while things become intense enough that the government has to offer the working people a few tidbits. Usually what brings about that tension are the actions of the people themselves.

So President Obama’s speech falls in line with all the rest. Incidentally his previous State of the Union addresses have been less than memorable, but this one stood out because he actually talked about giving us regular folks some things.

Who could argue that some of his proposals sounded great? The idea of free community college sounds great. More sick-time pay sounds good. Increasing the minimum wage sounds like a winner, except his proposal would still fall short. Anything less than $12 an hour is insufficient in today’s economy.

The president even talked about strengthening unions. That one was one of the more laughable ones. Unions and union power are antithetical to the aims of U.S. imperialism, but it sounds good.

President Obama even teased us with the idea that businesses should leave China and other international locales where they are paying starvation wages and come back to the U.S — yeah, right.

He spoke to the police violence issue by trying to take both sides. I know for many that will be enough. And besides, as some will say he can’t come out and do anything about it; “They won’t let him.” The truth is there are no two sides to that issue. The president sounded fair-minded, but in effect he delivered a false equivalency.

The police voluntarily sign up to become cops, and violence is something they may encounter in a culture that worships money and materialism and violence. But the average citizen, by the virtue of being a citizen, has a covenant that protects them. They operate under some assumptions guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

So citizens should not live in fear that they may not make it home after an encounter with the police. The government, instead of saying “I feel your pain,” should institute strong measures to prevent police from violating the human and civil rights of its citizens.

Overall the speech sounded quite supportive of the working class. In fact, it was his most populist speech yet. One has to ask, why now? Why did the president roll out some ideas for things that would really help the average working person? Was it because he knows his ideas will be blocked? It may seem a bit cynical, but one has to wonder if the more conservative layer of the capitalist representatives in the Republican congressional minority is really going to pass bills that really benefit the poorer folks of this society. And I can’t help but ask if the president is a little concerned about his legacy.

I suspect that what may have caused the president to give an even more strident speech in favor of working-class improvements has been the movement in the street. I suspect that though the protests have failed to win an indictment of the police who killed Eric Garner and Mike Brown, Jr., the fact that there have been so many protests and for so long made the ruling class feel it had to throw us a bone.

The capitalists can’t afford to have people in the streets. If they are in the streets protesting police violence, they may support striking workers or the 15 NOW campaign for $15 an hour. If folks are in the street, they may join those who protest the war and the war budget realizing that the trillions of dollars spent on U.S. wars of aggression could be better spent here at home.

It is the streets where we regular working folks get the ruling class to listen to us. It is the streets that move the Congress and the president. Everyone has been raving about the movie Selma, so let’s emulate the main point of the movie — that it was by taking to the streets that the White House was forced to pass civil rights legislation. It’s simply not true that the government would have gotten around to it eventually.

It is way past time to stop depending on Obama to save us. No matter what your perspective on who or what Obama is, the bottom line is — whether he could or not — he is not going to ride in and save Black America or working-class America, unless like Lincoln and Roosevelt it means saving the capitalists as well.

Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to