President Obama's State of the Union Address - remarks as prepared for
delivery. The State of the Union takes place at the U.S. Capitol in
Washington, D.C. on Jan. 25, 2011 at 9:00 p.m. ET.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President,
Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:
Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th
Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner. And as we mark this
occasion, we are also mindful of the empty chair in this Chamber, and
pray for the health of our colleague - and our friend – Gabby Giffords.
It's no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences
over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have
fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that's a good thing. That's what a
robust democracy demands. That's what helps set us apart as a nation.
But there's a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the
noise and passions and rancor of our public debate,
Tucson reminded us that no matter who we
are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater –
something more consequential than party or political preference.
We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where
every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound
together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed;
that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different
than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to
That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.
Now, by itself, this simple recognition won't usher in a new era of
cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this
moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight,
but whether we can work together tomorrow.
I believe we can. I believe we must. That's what the people who sent us
here expect of us. With their votes, they've determined that governing
will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only
pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward
together, or not at all – for the challenges we face are bigger than
party, and bigger than politics.
At stake right now is not who wins the next election – after all, we
just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take
root in this country, or somewhere else. It's whether the hard work and
industry of our people is rewarded. It's
whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place
on a map, but a light to the world.
We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of
us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate
profits are up. The economy is growing again.
But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We
measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find
and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small
business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving
enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to
That's the project the American people want us to work on. Together.
We did that in December. Thanks to the
tax cuts we passed, Americans' paychecks are a little bigger today.
Every business can write off the full cost of the new investments they
make this year. These steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will
grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector
jobs created last year.
But we have more work to do. The steps
we've taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this
recession – but to win the future, we'll need to take on challenges that
have been decades in the making.
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, 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 of 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.
They're right. The rules have changed. In a single generation,
revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do
business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same
work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire
workers, and sell their products wherever there's an internet
Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes
of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started
educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on
math and science. They're investing in research and new technologies.
Just recently, China became home to the world's largest private solar
research facility, and the world's fastest computer.
So yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But
this shouldn't discourage us. It should challenge us.
Remember – for all the hits we've taken
these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline,
America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No
workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful
companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We are
home to the world's best colleges and universities, where more students
come to study than any other place on Earth.
What's more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an
idea – the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own
destiny. That is why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked
everything to come here. It's why our students don't just memorize
equations, but answer questions like "What do you think of that idea?
What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you
The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can't just stand still.
As Robert Kennedy told us, "The future is not a gift. It is an
achievement." Sustaining the American Dream has never been about
standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and
struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.
Now it's our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and
industries of our time. We need to
out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.
We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need
to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government.
That's how our people will prosper. That's how we'll win the future. And
tonight, I'd like to talk about how we get there.
The first step in winning the future is
encouraging American innovation.
None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will
be, or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn't
know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic
revolution. What we can do – what America does better than anyone – is
spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the nation
that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of
Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America,
innovation doesn't just change our lives. It's how we make a living.
Our free enterprise system is what
drives innovation. But because it's not always profitable for companies
to invest in basic research, throughout history our government has
provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that
they need. That's what planted the seeds for the Internet. That's
what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.
Just think of all the good jobs – from manufacturing to retail – that
have come from those breakthroughs.
Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch
of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we'd beat them to the
moon. The science wasn't there yet. NASA didn't even exist. But after
investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the
Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries
and millions of new jobs.
This is our generation's Sputnik moment.
Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and
development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race. In a few
weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that
goal. We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and
especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen
our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our
Already, we are seeing the promise of renewable energy. Robert and Gary
Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company. After
September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the
Pentagon. But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit
Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being
used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the
country. In Robert's words, "We reinvented ourselves."
That's what Americans have done for over two hundred years: reinvented
ourselves. And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers,
we've begun to reinvent our energy
policy. We're not just handing out money. We're issuing a challenge.
We're telling America's scientists and engineers that if they assemble
teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest
problems in clean energy, we'll fund the Apollo Projects of our time.
At the California Institute of Technology, they're developing a way to
turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National
Laboratory, they're using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of
our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break
our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to
have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
We need to get behind this innovation.
And to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in
taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don't know
if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. So instead
of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's.
Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy
jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling.
So tonight, I challenge you to join me
in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America's electricity will come
from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want
nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need
them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make
Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to
America's success. But if we want to win the future – if we want
innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas – then we also
have to win the race to educate our kids.
Think about it. Over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs
will require education that goes beyond a high school degree. And yet,
as many as a quarter of our students aren't even finishing high school.
The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other
nations. America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people
with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us – as
citizens, and as parents – are willing to do what's necessary to give
every child a chance to succeed.
That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and
communities. It's family that first instills the love of learning in a
child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets
done. We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the
Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science
fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and
Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a
classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high
performance. But too many schools don't meet this test. That's why
instead of just pouring money into a system that's not working, we
launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all fifty states, we
said, "If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher
quality and student achievement, we'll show you the money."
Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a
generation. For less than one percent of what we spend on education each
year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching
and learning. These standards were developed, not by Washington, but by
Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country. And Race to
the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No
Child Left Behind with a law that is more flexible and focused on what's
best for our kids.
You see, we know what's possible for our children when reform isn't just
a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals;
school boards and communities.
Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was
rated one of the worst schools in Colorado; located on turf between two
rival gangs. But last May, 97% of the seniors received their diploma.
Most will be the first in their family to go to college. And after the
first year of the school's transformation, the principal who made it
possible wiped away tears when a student said "Thank you, Mrs. Waters,
for showing… that we are smart and we can make it."
Let's also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child's
success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In
South Korea, teachers are known as "nation builders." Here in America,
it's time we treated the people who educate our children with the same
level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making
excuses for bad ones. And over the next ten years, with so many Baby
Boomers retiring from our classrooms, we
want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science,
technology, engineering, and math.
In fact, to every young person listening tonight who's contemplating
their career choice: If you want to make
a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference
in the life of a child – become a teacher. Your country needs you.
Of course, the education race doesn't end with a high school diploma. To
compete, higher education must be within reach of every American.
That's why we've ended the unwarranted
taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make
college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask
Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –
worth $10,000 for four years of college.
Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in
today's fast-changing economy, we are also revitalizing America's
community colleges. Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at
Forsyth Tech in North Carolina. Many of the students there used to work
in the surrounding factories that have since left town. One mother of
two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry
since she was 18 years old. And she told me she's earning her degree in
biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs
are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their
dreams too. As Kathy said, "I hope it tells them to never give up."
If we take these steps – if we raise expectations for every child, and
give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they're
born until the last job they take – we will reach the goal I set two
years ago: by the end of the decade, America will once again have the
highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands
of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some
are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the
actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge
allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of
deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and
universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them
back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.
Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the
issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and
Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the
millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I
know that debate will be difficult and take time. But tonight, let's
agree to make that effort. And let's stop expelling talented,
responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new
businesses, and further enrich this nation.
The third step in winning the future is
rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the
fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information –
from high-speed rail to high-speed internet.
Our infrastructure used to be the best – but our lead has slipped. South
Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do. Countries in
Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do.
China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our
own engineers graded our nation's infrastructure, they gave us a "D."
We have to do better. America is the nation that built the
transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, and
constructed the interstate highway system. The jobs created by these
projects didn't just come from laying down tracks or pavement. They came
from businesses that opened near a town's new train station or the new
Over the last two years, we have begun
rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of
good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. Tonight, I'm proposing
that we redouble these efforts.
We will put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and
bridges. We will make sure this is fully paid for, attract private
investment, and pick projects based on what's best for the economy, not
Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80%
of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places
in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it
will be faster than flying – without the pat-down. As we speak, routes
in California and the Midwest are already underway.
Within the next five years, we will make
it possible for business to deploy the next generation of high-speed
wireless coverage to 98% of all Americans. This isn't just about
a faster internet and fewer dropped calls. It's about connecting every
part of America to the digital age. It's about a rural community in Iowa
or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell
their products all over the world. It's about a firefighter who can
download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a
student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who
can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.
All these investments – in innovation, education, and infrastructure –
will make America a better place to do business and create jobs. But to
help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that
stand in the way of their success.
Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit
particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers
to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest
are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It
makes no sense, and it has to change.
So tonight, I'm asking Democrats and
Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the
playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for
the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit.
To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling
our exports by 2014 – because the more we export, the more jobs we
create at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed
agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs
in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement
with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This
agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor; Democrats
and Republicans, and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.
Before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade
agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with
American workers, and promote American jobs. That's what we did with
Korea, and that's what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with
Panama and Colombia, and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade
To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I've ordered a review of
government regulations. When we find
rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.
But I will not hesitate to create or enforce commonsense safeguards to
protect the American people. That's what we've done in this country for
more than a century. It's why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe
to drink, and our air is safe to breathe. It's why we have speed limits
and child labor laws. It's why last year, we put in place consumer
protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies,
and new rules to prevent another financial crisis. And it's why we
passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from
Now, I've heard rumors that a few of you
have some concerns about the new health care law. So let me be the first
to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to
improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to
work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the
legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small
What I'm not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance
companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing
condition. I'm not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient
from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered. I'm not willing to
tell Jim Houser, a small business owner from Oregon, that he has to go
back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees. As we speak, this law
is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured
students a chance to stay on their parents' coverage. So instead of
re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let's fix what needs
fixing and move forward.
Now, the final step – a critical step – in winning the future is to make
sure we aren't buried under a mountain of debt.
We are living with a legacy of
deficit-spending that began almost a decade ago. And in the wake of the
financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing,
save jobs, and put money in people's pockets.
But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the
fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not
sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means.
They deserve a government that does the same.
So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual
domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit
by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring
discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight
Eisenhower was president.
This freeze will require painful cuts.
Already, we have frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees
for the next two years. I've proposed cuts to things I care deeply
about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense
has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he
and his generals believe our military can do without.
I recognize that some in this Chamber have already proposed deeper cuts,
and I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do
without. But let's make sure that we're
not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let's
make sure what we're cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the
deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like
lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel
like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll
feel the impact.
Now, most of the cuts and savings I've proposed only address annual
domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12% of our
budget. To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that
cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough. It won't.
The bipartisan Fiscal Commission I created last year made this crystal
clear. I don't agree with all their proposals, but they made important
progress. And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our
deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it – in domestic
spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through
tax breaks and loopholes.
This means further reducing health care
costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the
single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit. Health
insurance reform will slow these rising costs, which is part of why
nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law
would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit.
Still, I'm willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including
one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to
rein in frivolous lawsuits.
To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to
strengthen Social Security for future generations. And we must do it
without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people
with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and
without subjecting Americans' guaranteed retirement income to the whims
of the stock market.
And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a
permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.
Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from
our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.
It's not a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting
In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to
simplify the individual tax code. This will be a tough job, but members
of both parties have expressed interest in doing this, and I am prepared
to join them.
So now is the time to act. Now is the time for both sides and both
houses of Congress – Democrats and Republicans – to forge a principled
compromise that gets the job done. If we
make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the
investments we need to win the future.
Let me take this one step further. We shouldn't just give our people a
government that's more affordable. We should give them a government
that's more competent and efficient. We
cannot win the future with a government of the past.
We live and do business in the information age, but the last major
reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white
TV. There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There
are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then
there's my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of
salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles
them in when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more
complicated once they're smoked.
Now, we have made great strides over the last two years in using
technology and getting rid of waste. Veterans can now download their
electronic medical records with a click of the mouse.
We're selling acres of federal office
space that hasn't been used in years, and we will cut through red tape
to get rid of more. But we need to think bigger. In the coming months,
my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and
reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of
a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for
a vote – and we will push to get it passed.
In the coming year, we will also work to rebuild people's faith in the
institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and
where your tax dollars are being spent, you will be able to go to a
website and get that information for the very first time in history.
Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with
lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done:
put that information online. And because the American people deserve to
know that special interests aren't larding up legislation with pet
projects, both parties in Congress should know this: if a bill comes to
my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.
A 21st century government that's open and competent. A government that
lives within its means. An economy that's driven by new skills and
ideas. Our success in this new and changing world will require reform,
responsibility, and innovation. It will also require us to approach that
world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.
Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new
threats and new challenges. No single
wall separates East and West; no one rival superpower is aligned against
And so we must defeat determined enemies wherever they are, and build
coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion.
America's moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom,
justice, and dignity. And because we have begun this work, tonight we
can say that American leadership has been renewed and America's standing
has been restored.
Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left
with their heads held high; where American combat patrols have ended;
violence has come down; and a new government has been formed.
This year, our civilians will forge a
lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of
bringing our troops out of Iraq. America's commitment has been
kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end.
Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan
attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement
professionals, we are disrupting plots and securing our cities and
skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our
borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with
respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American
Muslims are a part of our American family.
We have also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In
Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained
Afghan Security Forces. Our purpose is clear – by preventing the Taliban
from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny
al Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.
Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the
control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the
Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are
strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring
partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries
to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to
bring our troops home.
In Pakistan, al Qaeda's leadership is under more pressure than at any
point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from
the battlefield. Their safe-havens are shrinking.
And we have sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian
Peninsula to all parts of the globe: we will not relent, we will not
waver, and we will defeat you.
American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst
weapons of war. Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START
Treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed.
Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on
every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.
Because of a diplomatic effort to insist
that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher
and tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean
peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North
Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.
This is just a part of how we are
shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our
European allies, we revitalized NATO, and increased our cooperation on
everything from counter-terrorism to missile defense. We have reset our
relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, and built new
partnerships with nations like India. This March, I will travel to
Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in
the Americas. Around the globe, we are standing with those who take
responsibility – helping farmers grow more food; supporting doctors who
care for the sick; and combating the corruption that can rot a society
and rob people of opportunity.
Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our
power – it must be the purpose behind it. In South Sudan – with our
assistance – the people were finally able to vote for independence after
years of war. Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the
streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the
scene around him: "This was a battlefield for most of my life. Now we
want to be free."
We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the
people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator.
And tonight, let us be clear: the United
States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the
democratic aspirations of all people.
We must never forget that the things we've struggled for, and fought
for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always
remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this
struggle are the men and women who serve our country.
Tonight, let us speak with one voice in
reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their
families. Let us serve them as well as they have served us – by
giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and
benefits they have earned; and by enlisting our veterans in the great
task of building our own nation.
Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black,
white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu,
Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay.
Starting this year, no American will be
forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.
And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open
their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time
to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move
forward as one nation.
We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our
schools; changing the way we use energy; reducing our deficit – none of
this is easy. All of it will take time. And it will be harder because we
will argue about everything. The cost. The details. The letter of every
Of course, some countries don't have this problem. If the central
government wants a railroad, they get a railroad – no matter how many
homes are bulldozed. If they don't want a bad story in the newspaper, it
doesn't get written.
And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can
sometimes be, I know there isn't a person here who would trade places
with any other nation on Earth.
We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights
enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we
believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make
it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the
same dream that says this is a country where anything's possible. No
matter who you are. No matter where you come from.
That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight. That dream is why
a working class kid from Scranton can stand behind me. That dream is why
someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father's Cincinnati bar
can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.
That dream – that American Dream – is what drove the Allen Brothers to
reinvent their roofing company for a new era. It's what drove those
students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the
future. And that dream is the story of a small business owner named
Brandon started a company in
Berlin, Pennsylvania that
specializes in a new kind of drilling technology. One day last summer,
he saw the news that halfway across the world,
men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.
But Brandon thought his company could help. And so he designed a rescue
that would come to be known as Plan B. His employees worked around the
clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment. And Brandon left
Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000 foot hole into the ground,
working three or four days at a time with no sleep. Thirty-seven days
later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued. But because he
didn't want all of the attention, Brandon wasn't there when the miners
emerged. He had already gone home, back to work on his next project.
Later, one of his employees said of the rescue, "We proved that Center
Rock is a little company, but we do big things."
We do big things.
From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of
ordinary people who dare to dream. That's how we win the future.
We are 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 is because of our people that
our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our
union is strong.
Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless the United States of
Radio: Connect the Dots – Lila Garrett, January 31, 2011: 6:59 p.m.
podcast by Tara Carreon, American-Buddha Online Librarian]
I’m Lila Garrett. Next
on Connect the Dots we’ll analyze the fallout from Obama’s State of the
Union address. Journalist John Nichols, Senator Bernie Sanders and
Congressman Dennis Kucinich join us right now on Connect the Dots.
Good Monday Morning. Welcome to Connect the Dots. I’m your host Lila
Garrett noticing that ever since the President made his State of the
Union speech last Tuesday, as many Republicans have come out praising it
as Democrats. Certainly more than progressive Democrats. And why not?
Ten minutes after he finished his State of the Union Speech, the Chamber
of Commerce enthusiastically endorsed it. This was followed by a whole
slew of right-wing business organizations who went from giving him a pat
on the head to sheer ecstasy. And who can blame them? In an effort to
include a little something for everybody, the lion’s share of the
goodies went to the right-wing.
We have guests who are going to talk about this today, great guests,
John Nichols, Senator Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, but first, if
you’re a corporation, would you not be thrilled to have nuclear power,
clean coal, and natural gas labeled “clean energy”? Yes. The three most
dangerous sources of energy were lumped in with turning sunlight and
water into fuel for our cars. Of course, Obama did request Congress to
eliminate billions in taxpayer dollars for the oil companies. But hey,
we need those dollars for the 55 nuclear plants he wants to build. He
waxed eloquent about our future on the Internet. He said, “it’s about
connecting every part of America to the digital age.” He said, “It's
about community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business
owners will be able to sell their products all over the world or a
patient can have a face to face video chat with her doctor.” When he
shared his dreams of high-speed Internet, he did however neglect to
mention that his choice for chair of the FCC was Julius Genachowski who
has approved the dismantling of Net Neutrality which begins with serious
slowing down of the Internet going to downright censorship. So let’s
hope that that patient that Obama mentioned lives long enough to reach
Obama pledged to concentrate on our infrastructure and after inspiring
us with images of new highways, smooth roads, and bridges to somewhere
he mentioned in passing that this will of course involve a partnership
with the private sector. Save your dollars America! Here comes tolls!
Chock another one up to privatization!
He praised Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ willingness to cut the
defense budget, which represents 59 cents out of each dollar we spend
nationally, and since that is at the center of our huge deficit, we
figure it should be cut at least in half. Nothing like it! What Gates
wants to do is get rid of the obsolete stuff that doesn’t kill as
efficiently as drones, and weapons laced with nuclear material. He wants
that upgrade, and his tradeoff is cutting the defense budget by about
8%. The Republicans are hesitating. Makes you wonder where they are in
the food chain, doesn’t it? With 14 million Americans unemployed, and 1
out of every 50 children homeless, he announced that “the worst of the
recession is over.” That’s a quote. He proposed that “starting this
year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.”
“What!,” we say. He admitted it would cause pain. “This means further
reducing of Medicare and Medicaid,” he said. And of course, the
Republicans’ favorite was mentioned by him, making it just about
impossible to sue a doctor for malpractice unless you are very rich in
the first place. The Republicans and the Blue Dog Democrats went wild
for that one.
Social Security was trickiest of all. We should strengthen social
security, he said, without putting current retirees at risk, the most
vulnerable, or people with disabilities, and without subjecting
Americans to the whims of the stock market. Sounds good. If you’re on
social security now, you’re safe. Then, banking on the basic
indifference of most people for laws that don’t involve them personally,
the Republicans are counting on the selfishness of the American people
not to care what happens to future generations. Unfortunately, we have
found in voting on proposition that this i
s a good bet. So, if you doubt that social security is in trouble,
don’t. It is.
He said, in fact to every young person listening tonight who is
contemplating their career choice, “if you want to make a difference in
the life of our nation, become a teacher. Your country needs you.” Sure,
become a teacher and hope you can get a job slinging hash. This is the
middle of the greatest firing and intimidation of teachers in our
He made a pledge to get taxes from corporations that don’t pay taxes,
which is a good thing, and to cut taxes for corporations that do, which
is clearly a bad thing. He pledged to create more jobs at home. He said,
“I will only sign deals that promote American workers.” Sounds good. But
this new head of the Committee on Jobs is Jeffrey Immelte, who was the
CEO of Connecticut’s General Motors, and his claim to fame is sending
American jobs to China.
And while the President made a speech for the Dream bill which would
open a decent path to citizenship for immigrants, and he praised the end
of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” literally, in the next sentence, he sais,
“And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open
their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC.” Combine that
terrible suggestion with the heating up of the First Lady’s campaign to
work with military families, and what have you got? A guarantee to shore
up our permanent war policy.
With us now, to continue the discussion of this remarkably contradictory
speech are three people eminently qualified to do so: John Nichols,
Senator Bernie Sanders, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
Let’s begin with John Nichols. John Nichols writes about politics for
the Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent, he’s a contributing
writer to the Progressive and In These Times, and the associate editor
of the Capital Times daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles
have appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and good
John Nichols, welcome to Connect the Dots.
[John Nichols] Well,
I’m delighted to be on with you, Lila.
[LG] It’s so good to be on with you, again. It’s been much, much too
long. Okay, so Obama’s speech has brought us together, his State of the
Union speech has brought us together, who knows who else it will bring
together, but at least there’s you and me. But I have some notes here
from you that I got on the Internet, which I’d like to ask you about, it
says, “What President Obama shouldn’t say in the State of the Union
address.” Okay, Senator Bernie Sanders and Progressive groups are urging
the President to avoid any talk of cutting social security, instead
Sanders says he should use the State of the Union speech to stand by
your campaign promises to strengthen social security, and Bernie Sanders
will be with us in a little while, but what did you think the President
said about standing by social security?
[JN] Well, I thought that was the one place where Progressives might
have claim to bit of a victory. About two weeks ago, there was a general
sense on Capitol Hill and among the punditocracy, if we can call it
that, all the people who comment on our politics, that President Obama
was very likely to use this speech to outline some sort of support for
his deficit commission proposal to undermine social security. Instead of
doing that, the President made a relatively robust defence of social
security, actually outlining the things that he found unacceptable,
certainly looking like he was opposed to any effort to do privatization,
mentioning specifically not wanting to gamble people’s futures on the
stock market. So what he said there was pretty good. What’s frightening
to me is that almost in the same context however, he did talk about
Medicare and Medicaid and cutting them, or at least addressing them, in
the context of deficit reduction. That is dangerous talk. So while there
may have been a little bit of a victory on social security, and one that
Progressives ought to recognize as such, there are also dangers on
Medicare and Medicaid.
[LG] And he didn’t really rule out any kind of cuts in social security,
did he? He talked about those people who are on social security now
definitely need to be protected.
[JN] He did mention young workers. I think that the best way to read
what he said is that he’s not going there at this point. And I think
that that’s good, that’s again, I believe, a response to the very strong
organizing by labor unions, religious groups, community organizations as
well as members of Congress, like Bernie Sanders. However, I think we
have to be very, very careful. Sometimes we get so busy fighting to
defend social security that we forget that it’s part of a broad social
safety network, especially for our elderly, but also for our disabled,
and a lot of young people. And if we keep social security without any
cuts, don’t do anything harmful to it, but then go and start to make
cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, the end result will be just as
devastating. And so I think the key thing here is to shift our focus.
Don’t forget about defending social security – that’s essential – but
shift our focus over to some of those cuts on Medicare and Medicaid
because I really do believe that that’s the danger zone as regards the
social safety net. I think that there’s a genuine chance that this
Congress is going to start playing with Medicare and Medicaid funding
issues in a way that could be very harmful, not merely to the elderly
but also to the tens of millions of younger Americans who rely on
[LG] And it really is getting the elephant’s nose, or I guess it’s the
camel’s nose, isn’t it, under the tent?
[JN] You know, Lila, it’s an elephant in this case since we are talking
about some very conservative republicans.
[LG] So it is about getting the elephant’s nose under the tent when it
comes to social services, if in fact we do allow these cuts. Good point.
[JN] A way to see it is broadly, even if we have a victory on social
security, I don’t think that’s enough.
[LG] But Paul Ryan and the right wing are planning a really diabolical
attack on social security, and then we’ll move off that subject, and
that is that those who are on it now will stay on it. This new choice
between accepting a private plan for social security, or a public plan,
will start with those who from now on, or when it passes, will start
then at the age of 45 or whenever social security actually starts. So
what they’re saying is, “Don’t worry, folks. If you’re now on social
security, you can vote for this, because to hell with the other people.”
And the Republicans are depending upon the fact, and this is a very sad
thing, John, that people are self-interested. They don’t really worry
about other generations. They worry about here and now, what’s happening
to me. And they feel that’s how they’re going to pass it. That’s what
you got from Paul Ryan, didn’t you?
[JN] Oh, I think there’s no question of that, and this is one of the
important things to understand. Paul Ryan is an extreme figure within
the Republican party. You know, many of his fellow Republicans are very
ill at ease with where Ryan takes the debate. But, he is a rising leader
within that party, and at this point they are giving him a tremendous
amount of leeway. Obviously, he was chosen to deliver the response to
the State of the Union, but something much more important happened
yesterday. While his response was televised, and we all talked about it,
on the floor of the Congress yesterday, they passed a resolution that
essentially authorizes him, Paul Ryan, to set the spending limits for
the country, because he’s chair of the budget committee – that’s an
unprecedented power handed to an individual member of Congress and it’s
one that we should be very, very frightened by because the game that
Paul Ryan will play is not to propose cutting social security, Medicare,
Medicaid, or other programs, what he will do is simply say “Here’s how
much money you have for them. Here, you can’t spend above this level.
I’m the budget committee chair, and this is what I’m going to
authorize.” Now you understand it, once you’ve got somebody like him
setting a top, a cap on the amount of money that can be spent, you begin
a slow process of squeezing those programs down to a size that they’re
dysfunctional. And this is what Thatcher did in England in the 1980’s to
the National Healthcare Program, really bringing it to the brink of
destruction, and it’s a very dangerous thing.
[LG] How could the Congress vote to give one individual, even if he is
Chair of the Committee, the right to unilaterally decide what the
spending cap will be?
[JN] Well, I agree with you, Lila. You’re asking exactly the right
question. But the problem is, we have a Congress now that plays by its
own set of rules, and that set of rules is not one that is outlined in
the Constitution, it’s not one that the American people are familiar
with, and frankly, we have a media in this country that doesn’t report
on substantive politics very often. More often than not it reports on
personalities and style. And Paul Ryan is a nice looking young man, and
that’s about as far as they get.
But here’s where the problem lies. He will not be able, in and of
himself, to do anything, but he might be able to cause harm, and the
difference there is it’s not a matter of passing legislation, it’s a
matter of limiting, squeezing the flow of money. And putting someone
like that in a position to basically decide how much money is available,
is going to be a real challenge as we go through this coming year. And
it’s one that the Democrats in the House of Representatives especially
have to get much more sophisticated about. They have to be yelling and
screaming about these issues, focusing on the barriers that Republicans
are erecting to the functional operation of the federal government.
Forget about the debates, about what you believe in, policy-wise. Forget
about the questions whether you like Obama, whether you like the
Republicans, or anything like that. There’s the basic level of
functioning in the federal government that some of these people, like
Ryan, would like to throw off course. They’d like to make the federal
government such a mess that then people really will throw their arms up
and say, “Screw it. Let’s privatize.” And that’s their hope, it’s a
monkey-wrenching tactic, one that’s very dangerous.
[LG] Well, the President gave them hope yesterday when he just slipped
in that when we do all these wonderful things with infrastructure, we
are going to need private money. He just slipped that in, and he also
slipped in during his energy discussion, he talked about clean energy in
such a glowing way and then suddenly he just slipped in, “We will also
be using nuclear energy, and clean coal and natural gas” – you know,
three of the most dangerous energy sources in the world. There’s no such
thing as clean coal, there’s no such thing as a nuclear facility that
doesn’t eventually leak, and there are terrible dangers also with
natural gas. I mean, he just slipped it in.
And here’s another little something that he slipped in last night, and I
want to ask you what your attitude was about that, because I had a few
people over for this and the minute he said this, they all yelled,
“What!” Before that they were calm, I thought even bored, but this
really got their attention. It says, “Starting this year, no American
will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they
love.” And there was deserved applause on that, because he was talking
about Don’t ask, don’t tell being over, thank goodness. “And with that
change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our
military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the
divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.”
Is that our idea of moving forward as one nation?
[JN] You noticed that, hey? Yes, that was a very, very serious statement
there, because he’s essentially undermining all of the campaign
promises, largely to Vietnam veterans, to assure that our public schools
do not become recruitment zones, particularly for poor Americans who
don’t have other options. You know, going into the military is the only
thing you can do. And so by saying that, the President clearly aligned
himself with a push to let military recruitment deep into, not just our
colleges through ROTC, but ultimately into our high schools and even our
junior highs. You are right to notice, and it’s one of many statements
in this speech that should be unsettling to progressives.
Look, the bottom line about this speech is it wasn’t as bad as some
people feared it might have been. But our standards shouldn’t be “not
horrible.” Our standards should be fighting for progressive ideals we
know are not just political talking points, but necessary steps to
create a fair and functional society. And Obama really didn’t go there
in so many areas.
One of the most troubling areas was the discussion of foreign policy. He
failed to even mention what’s going on in Cairo right now. You have
hundreds of thousands of people going into the streets to object to a
corrupt and brutal government that has been shored up for decades by the
United States. He didn’t mention what’s happening in Lebanon. He didn’t
mention some of the incredible revelations in the last two or three days
as regards the Middle East peace process. And for a President of the
United States, a Democratic President of the United States to give less
attention to the Middle East and political hot spots than George W. Bush
did, is frankly embarrassing.
[LG] We are talking to the journalist, John Nichols, are we are
discussing the President’s attack, or not attack on foreign policy in
his speech. And not only that but he was very, very vague about
Afghanistan, except to give us what we were supposed to accept as good
news, and it would be good news if it was really true, that we are going
to pull back from Afghanistan starting during the summer. And yet, the
last I read, we were going to send 30,000 more troops. So what’s he
[JN] Well, this gets to the great crisis of Afghanistan, and this is the
problem there. President Obama accepted a fantasy as regards
Afghanistan, roughly a year and a half ago, and that was that the United
States could win a war there on the ground with a surge of additional
troops. It was never going to be the case. And it’s fascinating that
when the President made those statements last night, I was doing
commentary on Al Jazeera and a number of other networks, and it happened
that they went to their Afghanistan correspondent after the President
talked about this, and she said that what he was saying in the State of
the Union address was simply out of synch with the reality out on the
ground in Afghanistan where there are all sorts of problems, huge
challenges with the corruption of the existing government, a resurgent
Taliban in many regions, and very little evidence that things are moving
towards stability or a positive play-out of the U.S. occupation. So you
have the President in a disconnect here. I hope that he does ultimately
decide to do the painful thing. And it is painful. And that is simply to
withdraw. To say, look, we’ve screwed a lot of things up here, we’ve
created a lot of messes, but to remain on the ground and try and manage
this situation militarily is not going to work. And so we’re going to
pull U.S. troops out and hopefully provide a lot of funding for
humanitarian programs and development programs that might actually do
some good. But I am very dubious about the President on this, and the
weird thing is the only thing that plays in our favor, the favor of
those of us who would like to get out of that mess, is politics. The odd
reality is that Barack Obama might well withdraw U.S. troops, not
because a war has been won or circumstances have stabilized on the
ground, but simply because he doesn’t want to be managing a bad fight
anymore. It’s a painful reality that politics might play in our favor
[LG] Yeah, but as I say, he’s sending 30,000 more troops there. Isn’t he
just replacing …
[JN] Believe me, I’m with you. I agree.
[LG] But isn’t that just replacing the troops he may withdraw and give a
[JN] Look, I mean, again, go back to the courthouse. This war is not
going well. So the troops that are sent there are going to continue to
manage an occupation that isn’t working. And, you know, President Obama
can keep them there, he can remove them, but the choice is not going to
be made on the basis of the war having gone well, of things turning in a
proper direction. The reality is that if we withdraw our forces from
there, it will be a political choice made to get out of a mess, not a
choice made based on the sort of progress that the President was talking
about in his speech. I fear that, you know, we end up again in obviously
a classic Vietnam situation where they keep saying we’re winning, they
keep saying we’re winning, and then they send more troops. That’s a
[LG] John Nichols I have to ask you this question not to put you on the
spot but because you know everything: Why are we in Afghanistan?
[JN] Well, there’s a whole bunch of reasons that we’re in Afghanistan,
and they go back to questions that were raised in 2000, 2001, before
September 11, based on the development of an oil pipeline coming out of
the former Soviet republics which are very oil rich but don’t have easy
routes to transport that oil out of their region. The United States
government has a huge military presence in Afghanistan, but we also have
a huge military presence in Pakistan and in many of those former Soviet
republics. So there is an oil politics overlay to this even though
there’s very little evidence that Afghanistan is particularly an oil
rich country. That’s one thing.
Secondly, we are there managing things for Pakistan. Pakistan has a
problem with Afghanistan, particularly because of the very fluid
borders. So we are very, very politically tied to Pakistan, and Pakistan
has concerns about Afghanistan. We are doing some of their bidding
And finally, we’ve put ourselves into a bad situation, very unthinking,
as regards to how to extract. So you have this oil politics, you have
the geopolitical situation in the region, and finally you have the
situation of a Barack Obama becoming President of the United States
after a campaign in which he and an awfully lot of unwise Democrats
referred to Afghanistan as “The good war.” So Iraq was the bad war,
Afghanistan was the good one. That was never the case; it’s not the case
now; but, there’s a political overlay there where they developed this
fantasy that somehow Afghanistan was something positive. There was
something good going on there. That’s not the case.
But for all of those reasons, these explanations are in play on any
given day, and the ultimate reality, the only thing that people really
need to know, is that just about every country that ever tried to occupy
Afghanistan, they have all failed. It is an unoccupiable country, a
country where ultimately an attempt to control it by an outside force
will be upset and defeated. That’s what happened to the British Empire,
that’s what happened to the Soviet Empire, and if the United States
tries to remain there long-term, it will happen to us.
And one hopes that Obama was serious in his speech when he was saying
that ultimately he wants to begin serious withdrawal. It’s the only
logical route. It’s not because we want to stabilize things, we would
withdraw simply as a political move to get out. I fear, however, that
the oil politics of the former Soviet republics in that region may lead
us to try and maintain some sort of long-term, if not direct military
presence, an extended military presence, be it NATO or other forces,
ultimately propping up the incredibly corrupt Karzai government and
feeding into a situation that at some point along the line is going to
blow up. It has blown up, realistically, but could become much worse.
[LG] The President recommended a five-year freeze on discretionary
funding. I mean, what could he possibly be thinking? I have to tell you,
foreclosures are so rampant that three members of my family have had the
threat of foreclosures and their response was “What?!” I mean, these are
three members of my family who pay their mortgage every year. And you
know, they spited the banks, I have to tell you one happy story here, so
brilliantly, that each one of them had their mortgages reduced
dramatically. That was after a long, long legal effort. But the
foreclosures are so epidemic at this point people are on the street, one
out of every fifty children is now homeless, healthcare is so expensive,
even for Veterans who are not really getting enough to cover their
healthcare, that people are dying, they are literally dying, they can’t
get work – what was the President talking about when he said the economy
was better? Just that Wall Street is better? How in the world can he say
that he is going to freeze funding for five years? Could he possibly be
[JN] Oh, I think he’s quite serious, he’s also quite wrong. I mean,
look, this is the bottom line. You ask if he is serious, and that gets
to a deeper issue. The fact of the matter is any President who says he
is going to freeze discretionary spending but only is going to do so on
the domestic side, not on military spending, and then starts to make all
sorts of other exceptions, talks about spending in other areas of
construction development, rail development, wireless buildout – things
of that nature – we know he’s not serious. I mean, that’s just a
rhetorical point. That’s a little fantasy you throw into your speech
because it sounds good, it suggests that you’re recognizing your
opposition’s obsession with deficits. But no, he’s not serious, frankly.
Unfortunately, he is buying into a dialogue, a discourse we’re having,
which suggests wrongly that we have a financial crisis in this country
rooted in deficits or federal spending. We’re not in a crisis position.
This is an interesting thing. We have a host of easy remedies that would
allow us to avoid most of the challenges that the President and even his
most ardent Republican critics talk about. We can develop a fair tax
policy that makes billionaires pay their taxes, that makes millionaires
live by some basic estate taxes, and these are simple things we can do
that can rectify a lot of the problems. We can cut wasteful defense
spending and still keep America the safest most secure country on the
planet but cut massive, wasteful defense spending. And yes, there are
areas where you can reform the federal government, make it more
efficient. There’s a lot of stuff you can do. All those things are
And then on top of it, let me give you the final thing, Lila. The fact
is we have moved toward an economy that is driven by financial
speculation. And yet financial speculation, unlike your property, your
purchases, your income, is not taxed. We need a financial speculation
tax, sort of like the old token tax. You know, when people are trading
hundreds of thousands of shares of stock back and forth just to make a
slight margin call, when you have all of these different instruments
for, again, speculating on everything from oil price rises to food
prices and everything else, we should be taxing that. It’s a way to
control the excessive speculation, and it’s also a way to get some
useful result from all this shifting of money back and forth. And it’s
interesting that this is not some liberal or left-wing idea. Sarkozy,
the president of France, has begun talking about this. Many European
leaders are talking about the need for a financial transactions tax. And
we have a handful of people in our U.S. Congress that have brought it
up, led by Peter DeFazio from Oregon and Tom Harkin from Iowa, but this
needs to be a much bigger deal. Because if we simply did a tiny amount
of taxation, just a micro-cents on every stock transfer above a certain
level by the speculators, we would have more than enough money to pay
for healthcare, to pay for education, to stabilize our state and local
budgets. The money is there. The fact of the matter is we just don’t
have a federal government that is willing to go out and collect it in a
reasonable way and then to use it for needed, and substantive purposes
rather than going off and occupying countries that don’t want to be
[LG] Exactly! And on that note, which is a great note of truth, we will
thank you John Nichols for this wonderful interview. It’s been a big
help and we hope we can call on you again but not such a big space
between interviews, okay?
[JN] I am honored to be with you always, Lila. Thank you for having me.
[LG] We’ve been speaking with journalist John Nichols. With us now is
Senator Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders was elected to the U.S. Senate in
2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the
longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. So,
Senator Bernie Sanders, welcome to Connect the Dots.
[BS] Good to be with you, Lila.
[LG] Thank you. Now, I would love to know what your response was to the
State of the Union speech. I have something here that I got on the
Internet. President Obama used the State of the Union address Tuesday to
ask the nation to meet the challenges of a global economy. Senator
Sanders said creating jobs, cutting deficits, and protecting social
security to be the top priorities. Do you think they were?
[BS] Well, I mean, I think the President said some good things, but I
think maybe equally important is there are some very important things
that he did not talk about. I think what was good was he focused on
infrastructure, which I think is an issue we have got to deal with. I
know it’s not a sexy issue, but we can create over a period of time
millions of good-paying jobs rebuilding our crumbling bridges and roads
and water systems, making broadband available to every American which is
very important, dealing with high-speed rail, and generally improving
our public transportation system. So the President dealt with that. The
devil is in the details. His budget is obviously not out yet. But I hope
there is in fact a very substantial investment in those areas, because
we need to do it, and we create jobs.
Where I think the President was not strong is in really articulating
where we are as a nation today and where we’ve got to go in the sense
that I don’t believe, I could be wrong, that he even used the word
“middle class,” or “working class” in his whole speech.
[LG] He didn’t. He did not.
[BS] And you know, the reality is, and it’s not casting blame, but the
reality is that right now the middle class of this country is
collapsing, poverty is increasing, and the gap between the very
wealthiest people and everybody else is growing wider. So the truth is
the economy is in fact doing really, really good for the people on top
at Wall Street and corporate America, the economy is doing rather badly
for almost everybody else.
I don’t think he set that stage. I don’t think he set that tone. So, he
was not as strong as I would have liked. And maybe my ears are a little
bit sensitive to this because I am the chairman of the Green Jobs
subcommittee. And also playing a very important role on social security,
he left a little wobble room, I think, in terms of social security, and
making it very clear that he was going to oppose any effort to cut
benefits or to raise the retirement age. And I didn’t quite hear that.
He talked about working on some bipartisan agreement with Republicans
who have been very, very bad on this issue.
So in terms of trade, I think most Americans perceive that our trade
policies, whether it’s NAFTA or trade relations with China, etcetera,
etcetera, have been a failure, that they’ve cost us millions of
good-paying jobs. People want new trade policies that are designed to
protect workers, and not just heads of corporations. And he kept touting
that old line we’ve been hearing for 30 years now about how great these
trade agreements are. So I found that disappointing as well.
[LG] When you talk about the fact that people are poor, they don’t have
jobs, they’re struggling, and I’ve heard that in a lot of letters like
that, and I’m sure you’ve gotten thousands, maybe millions, the
President talked about freezing for five years funding, discretionary
funding, what are the people going to do who are losing their homes, who
can’t find jobs, who are finding healthcare too expensive, who are
literally dying and starving? One out of every 50 children is now
homeless. What is he talking about?
[BS] Well, I think you make a very, very good point. And when we talk
about the collapse of the middle class and the increase in poverty, what
we are talking about in this country is more people who are homeless,
more people who have lost their homes through foreclosure, we already
have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world,
over 20%, more people are losing their health insurance, and those
people are in desperate straits. And if you talk about freezing
discretionary spending, you are suggesting that those people are not
going to get the help that they need, and that means people will go
hungry, people will go cold, people will be out in the streets. And then
you add to that the fact that states all over this country, California,
Vermont, many others, are also facing huge deficit situations, that they
are making cuts. So they are cutting back on Medicaid, they are cutting
back on their programs, the federal government is not there to help.
There is no question but there’s going to be a lot of terrible suffering
[LG] Right! So what is he talking about? I mean, when he talks about
lowering the taxes for corporations, and at the same time previous to
that he talked about the fact that some corporations get away with not
paying at all. Well, those are the ones who went offshore and are only
obligated to pay taxes on their profits that they bring back to this
country. But why does he talk about lowering the taxes for corporations?
[BS] Well, what he’s talking about, and like everything else, the devil
is in the details. What he is talking about is doing away with
loopholes, which certainly exist. For example, this year Exxon Mobil,
which made 19 billion dollars in profits last year, is paying zero
federal taxes. Okay. So you’ve got all kinds of tax havens out there.
And his suggestion is that if we can do away with these loopholes, we
bring in more revenue, and you can lower the rates. Maybe. But, on the
other hand, I think what we know is that corporate America is today
paying lower rates than they have in the past. They are sitting on a
whole lot of money. So that would not necessarily be my major priority.
My major priority would be to figure out how we start rebuilding
manufacturing jobs in the United States of America, how we rebuild our
infrastructure, how we transform our energy system, and when you do all
of those things, it’s not only good for the future of the country, it
creates jobs right now.
[LG] Of course we have to bring jobs back to this country, and that’s
what the President implied he believed in. At the same time, he’s just
taken on Jeffrey Immelte as Chair of the Council on Jobs. I mean, this
man was the CEO of the Connecticut General Electric, he is famous for
shipping jobs to China. He openly believes in this.
[BS] Right. And that’s exactly right. You know, I’ve been on the floor
of the House talking about that. A number of years ago Immelte gave a
speech in which he spoke to his investors, and he said that he believes
that the future of his company is in China, China, China. So you’re
absolutely right. Why he would pick somebody whose company has engaged
in outsourcing, in fact building a manufacturing base, unfortunately
it’s in China and in other countries, not in the United States, is a
very good question.
[LG] And he also said, “I call on all our college campuses to open their
doors to our military recruiters and ROTC. It is time to leave behind
the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward to one
nation.” Is that the way we should move forward to one nation by
supporting our permanent war economy? Are we looking forward to more
[BS] Well, that’s again a very important issue. He talked about cutting
military spending, but given the fact that we’ve almost tripled our
military spending I think since 1997, the cuts that he is talking about
are fairly minimal. And I think if we are serious about dealing with the
deficit, we gotta know how that deficit accrued, which had a lot to do
with tax breaks for the rich, two unfunded wars, and the Wall Street
bailout. And that I think that there are substantial cuts that can be
made in weapons systems that are no longer relevant to the current
military issues that we have to deal with. So, again, I think we can do
a lot better than what he is proposing over a five-year period, which
given the size of the military budget is not all that significant.
[LG] Yeah, but what I really was asking you about, Senator Sanders, is
the morality of sending these recruiters into our schools. Because once
you put that elephant’s nose under the tent, and you open the doors to
colleges and welcome them in, then the high schools will fall, then the
grammar schools will fall.
[BS] Well, I’m not sure that that’s an issue for us here. I think that’s
an issue for the schools, Lila. If that’s what they want to do, and they
think that’s an opportunity for kids, I think that is their right.
[LG] But when the President suggests it, it really makes a huge
difference. Well, you did speak about the infrastructure, and I notice
that he said in order to do this, we have to partner with private money
in order to really build this infrastructure. He kind of sent that right
over the radar. How do you feel about that?
[BS] I’m not crazy about that, and obviously, again, he mentioned that
in one sentence, so we have to learn more about that. But I think that
when you have according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, some
Two Trillion dollars of infrastructure work that has to be done, I think
we should make that investment, I think the American people obviously
should own their own infrastructure, not some private companies. Thank
you very much.
[LG] We’ve been speaking with U.S.
Senator Bernie Sanders. With us now is Dennis Kucinich. Dennis Kucinich
has represented the 10th Congressional District of Ohio in the United
States House of Representatives since 1997. He’s the author of the
Department of Peace proposal, and the former Chair of the Congressional
Progressive Caucus. Dennis is the consummate champion of the people, but
in 2011 the country is going to be redistricted giving the Republicans a
wide advantage. Some districts will be eliminated. Dennis Kucinich’s may
be one of them. We’ll ask about that, but first, Congressman Dennis
Kucinich. Welcome to Connect the Dots.
[DK] Thank you, Lila. It’s good to be with you.
[LG] Yes, and it’s wonderful to have you. So I saw you on Tuesday night.
You’re looking very healthy and hardy behind the President, and now we
would like to know what was your reaction to his speech?
[DK] You know, there was a lot in the speech about the President seeking
to unify the country. It is particularly important to try and do that
after the tragedy in Tucson, and at the same time, I, of course, do not
agree with staying in Iraq, staying in Afghanistan. I think it’s a
serious mistake. And I’m also looking forward to hearing more from the
Administration about what they’re going to do to create jobs. It’s
important to talk about energy efficiency and about sustainability, but
we have an economy that is lagging because we haven’t addressed those
issues in the past, and I think we’ve missed a lot of opportunities. You
know, I’m not happy about 15 million people out of work, another 12
million people underemployed, 50 million people without healthcare.
Look, the President has a tough job on his hands, but frankly, I think
Wall Street is calling too many of the shots there.
[LG] Well, the President said that we are in the middle of a great
recovery, and that things are much, much better, and so he has decided
to freeze spending for the next five years. Discretionary spending.
[DK] Well, it’s a jobless recovery, and a freeze on discretionary
spending for five years, when you have the Pentagon taking up more and
more of the discretionary budget. Right now it’s just over 50%. What
that means is if you freeze spending, and you don’t freeze the Pentagon,
they will eventually become the tomato that ate Washington, and we’ll
end up being in a situation where all of the domestic needs that are
pressing right now for education in particular will not be able to be
met. The money just won’t be there. And so I’m VERY concerned that we’re
setting forth economic policies that are not going to be successful, and
that they’ll actually end up exacerbating the problem we have. The
government needs to invest right now. Now the President did talk about
infrastructure, but the kind of infrastructure investment that’s needed
is trillions of dollars, if you listen to the American Institute of
Architecture and their assessment of America’s infrastructure: bridges,
roads, water systems, sewer systems, and all. So I think we have a very
minimalist approach here towards the economy. We have a jobless quote
“recovery” unquote. Wall Street is recovering famously but Main Street
[LG] Now in terms of the Pentagon, and the fact that we have this huge
budget, which is like a trillion dollars, they say it’s 700 billion but
we know that it’s much more, he congratulated Robert Gates for the fact
that he wants to cut back on the defense budget. As a matter of fact, we
had the figure, it was like 10% of what the defense budget is supposed
to be like. He wanted to cut back 70 billion dollars, and the
Republicans went into orbit. You know, “Oh no, that’s the one thing we
can’t cut.” So who’s at fault here?
[DK] Well, we have a culture which causes the Pentagon budget to have
priority over everything else. Look, we have an obligation to defend our
country but is not a well-educated child part of the defense of the
country? Is not a healthy populace defending the country? We seem to
have a misreading of the preamble of the Constitution here where
providing for the common defense basically is the only thing we’re
hearing about anymore. We’re not really talking about promoting the
general welfare. So I’m very concerned that we’re not creating the jobs
that are necessary to bring us out of this economic mess. And you know,
Wall Street’s holding on to its profits. The businesses who the
government helped recover, the banks the government helped recover,
they’re not investing in job creation, they’re investing in mergers and
acquisitions which is still going on, and some very big ones, too.
[LG] That’s not what we want, is it? Do we want those huge mergers?
[DK] It’s not productive spending. Right now we need jobs, and this is a
national problem. If you have a job in this economy, because of the high
degree of unemployment, there’s a downward pressure on wages, there’s a
downward pressure on pensions, downward pressure on health benefits. So
we have to start thinking about the knock-down effects of a nearly
official 10% unemployment rate, and the long-term effects of the deepest
economic troughs of a post World War II recession. This is the deepest
recession we’ve had, and you know what? It keeps getting deeper.
[LG] So why does the President say that we’re getting out of it, you
know, it’s turning around? If we need jobs in this country, why in the
world would he have given Jeffrey Immelte the Chair of the Council on
Jobs? Here’s the man who is the CEO of Connecticut’s General Electric
Company, and not only that, but he’s a prime supporter of shipping jobs
to China. Now why would the President do that? I mean, he’s part of the
problem, isn’t he?
[DK] Well, you have to realize that a number of the President’s key
economic advisors have come from an economic discipline known as
behavioral economics. It’s where they use psychology to convince people
that things are better. And if you say it, you might actually convince
people. But if people don’t have a job, it’s a hard-sell. If they’re
worried about their healthcare, it’s a tough sell. If they’re worried
about their retirement security, and they think they might lose their
pension it’s going to be hard to tell them, “Things are getting better.”
But this behavioral economics is actually an approach that’s being used
to try to massage the public into believing that things are improving.
You want to say that and somehow you hope that the psychology will help
propel a self-fulfilling prophecy to actually get people to spend again.
The problem is that people are maxed out on their credit cards, if you
don’t have a job you can’t spend, if you’re worried about whether you’re
going to have a job tomorrow you’re not going to spend, if a business
isn’t investing it’s not moving money in the economy, it’s hoarding the
money, you know. You can wish things, but it doesn’t mean that things
are going to happen. And we need some solid economic policy instead of
[LG] So what do we do to get that, Dennis?
[DK] Well, I think at some point, the situation is going to be so
manifestly bad that the Administration will be forced by events to at
least propose massive job programs, and I guess the Republicans would
defeat them only at their peril. The problem is that we didn’t do this
with the Democrats fully in control of the government with the House,
the Senate, and the Presidency. We did the America Recovery Act, but
that, you know, helped to sustain a number of State governments. Only a
fraction of it, about 20% of it perhaps, went for actual creation of
infrastructure jobs. If you have a couple of hundred billion dollars in
infrastructure, that’s not chickenfeed, but frankly, when you have
trillions of dollars that are needed to be invested, it doesn’t rise to
the level of the need. So the President refused to consider the highway
bill, he told James Oberstar that he wasn’t going to move it, they
refused to consider loan modification or cram down, to help keep people
in their homes. Instead they helped bail out Wall Street. And now that
Wall street is quote “recovering” unquote, and Main Street is suffering,
you start to wonder “Who was this for in the first place? We were told
that the bailout was going to help Main Street.” So we have to now ask,
What are we going to wait for? What are we going to wait for? It may be
that the physics of the 2012 election, as we get into the orbit of that
election season, you may see the unemployment conditions starting to
drive the American people towards a desire for some powerful change from
the White House.
[LG] But you can’t wait for that, because by that time the damage will
be so enormous that I don’t really see how it can take less than 20
years to correct it.
[DK] You’re right. It needs to happen now.
[LG] It needs to happen now, but what about thinking of another person
to run in 2012, or is that just sacrilegious for me to mention that?
[DK] It’s not sacrilegious. It’s a legitimate question. I don’t know if
the President is going to get a full-fledged challenge from any liberal.
Is there an opening there from a policy standpoint? Of course there is.
But practically speaking, if a candidate would come forward to beat the
President in a primary, then you have to worry about the effects of
fracturing what remains of the coalition that elected the President, and
it would be very difficult to win in the general and if you just caused
the President to be damaged politically in the primary, then you help
the Republicans take the White House. Now some people might say, “Well,
good.” But no, it’s not. There are some things that President Obama has
been able to do which I doubt very seriously that a Republican President
would do. So I think we need to keep pressing the White House on these
issues, and if they don’t feel that people will be incentivized to turn
out in a November election, they’re astute enough politically to read
the tea leaves in the next year, and know they may have to start sending
to Congress a whole different set of proposals in order to gain the
confidence of the American people, and especially on matters of the
economy and also on matters of peace.
[LG] Those are two huge matters. And then there’s the matter of
education. I just want to read you something that he said here. First of
all, he was very good on gays. I mean, he didn’t work very hard to end
“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” but once it was ended, he said, “Starting this
year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love
because of who they love,” and that was deserving of its applause. And
then he said, “With that change, I call on all our college campuses to
open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC.” How about that?
“It’s time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It’s time
to move forward as one nation.” Do you think that’s moving forward as
[DK] I think that if the country is under attack, I think every American
would want to be of service. But I think that simply using “Don’t ask,
don’t tell” to open up the doors of colleges and universities to
recruiters, I don’t know. I think that’s problematic. People should want
to serve, and what you have in the recruiting is a certain approach that
in a time of high unemployment might provoke some skepticism. You know,
I’m not going to be critical of those who serve our country, I think
it’s a very high calling, and they ought to be thanked for wanting to
serve, but I also think they’re trying to use “Don’t ask, don’t tell” to
open up the gates for recruitment of people on campus. I don’t know
[LG] Well, I’m going to use the word. It’s sleazy. It’s sleazy and
hypocritical and outrageous. But that’s my word. And so the other thing
that he talked about, aside from the freeze, was in the middle of
discussing clean energy, he suddenly said, he just sort of tucked it in
at the end, nuclear energy, clean coal – which of course doesn’t exist
-- and natural gas. You know, three of the most dangerous energy sources
in the world. So what do we do about all this now? I had Lily Tomlin
here today, and Elayne Boosler, and I said to them, “When you mention
Obama in real life, it splits the room.” Let’s say, in a room full of
Democrats. It splits the room. There are those who will absolutely
attest to the fact that he can do no wrong, because if he does wrong, we
can’t acknowledge it because the other side will use it to beat him
with. And then there are those who say, “Look, we’re not abandoning him,
he is abandoning us. We have to make him understand that.”
[DK] You just said it. It splits the room. Imagine if it splits the
nation. And so we’re really looking at the importance of members of
Congress raising a challenge on a regular basis to the policies of the
Administration in an attempt to try to push them in the direction of
being more responsive on the economy, on peace, on energy. But, you
know, the President I think has probably taken a pretty good measure of
conditions in Washington. And there’s a fundamental disjuncture between
the Washington that exists inside the beltway and the United States that
exists from sea to shining sea exclusive of the beltway. We have so many
people who are ready to really get behind very dramatic change in
America which, the election of President Obama, many people thought he
was a harbinger of that, and yet as soon as you come inside the beltway
it’s like, “Abandon hope all ye who enter within.” We have to start
insisting on a reconnection between the aspirations of The People and
what we expect government to do. Washington is just under the control of
so many of these diverse and powerful interest groups that even the
President of the United States would be reluctant to bring a challenge
and may in some areas have concluded it’s better to join them than to
[LG] I’ve made this statement before, but in order to become President,
you have to have a fire in your belly. It has to be there. It has to be
for some reason, you know? And one gets the impression more and more
strongly that the fire in Barack Obama’s belly is to get reelected. One
gets that impression. Yesterday he kissed up to the Republicans to such
an extent that even I was shocked. And I’m very critical of him, because
he started his term with so much momentum, he could have done anything
he wanted to do. And the first thing he did was pick a right-wing
cabinet. You know, the only one in it that was at all progressive was
Hilda Solis who was Secretary of Labor, and he hasn’t mentioned her
since. So the question is, “Who is he?“ Who do you think he is, Dennis?
[DK] I think the broader question is “Who are we, and what do we stand
for?” And are we ready to speak out to challenge a Democratic
administration which has gone in a direction which we believe is not
consistent with the practical aspirations of the American people, for
jobs, healthcare, education, retirement security, peace, and a clean
environment. You know, “Who are we?” And so we cannot simply insist that
it’s the President, who if we vote for him, he’s going to set us free.
No, we have to maintain an ongoing involvement. I’ve always been
concerned about the fact that a very active peace movement collapsed
after we went to war in Iraq. We really need to wake the town again, and
tell the people and to encourage a very powerful civic response to
things and not simply get caught up on our … [recording ended]
Murdoch, the Ventriloquist and His Two Favorite Dummies: Barack Obama
and John Boehner, by Tara Carreon