The rather small State of the Union

sotu2014Despite the best efforts of pundits and D.C. PR, the State of the Union address this year seemed, well, small.

Perhaps it was because I didn’t watch the speech this year – 1st time in a long time. Just wasn’t up for TV anchors’ “this is Washington’s Oscars” spin as the government’s still-mostly-men file in. (credit for video screengrab) Nor for the up-close-and-personal vignettes that pepper SOTU no less than they soon will Sochi.

As for the text of the speech itself – except for the well-deserved celebration of an end to certain health care injustices – it paled in the gloss of my high-def tablet screen.

President Barack Obama put impressive force into his demand for higher wages for Americans at the bottom of the income rung, to a reverse in the trend of growing economic inequality, to a guarantee of a good job. Impressive, that is, absent the deflating reality revealed on one’s calculator. Obama’s centerpiece solution was a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. That would bring the annual income of a person who works full-time and gets paid vacation (both unlikely, at this wage scale) to a grand total of $21,008.00. (Note that this is higher than the current income floor.) Given the high cost of living in the United States, one could almost hear the low-wage earner mutter,

‘That and a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card will get me a cup of coffee.’

As the President noted, the mutterer well may be a woman. He said:

‘Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.’

Well, yes, it is, and the focus on this issue was inspiring. Or would have been, if Obama’s stated solutions – “equal sbapay for equal work,” “a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent” – weren’t as old as the women’s movement itself. (image credit) Consider this web account:

Susan B. Anthony‘s paper The Revolution, first published in 1868, advocated an eight-hour day and equal pay for equal work.’

In his speech Obama sounded an alarm about “the lives that gun violence steals from us each day,” as he has many times before. (Prior posts here, here, and here) His promise “to keep trying, with or without Congress,” served as a reminder of the difficulty of change.

“Diplomacy” was the SOTU foreign policy buzzword. That is welcome, but did not fully settle the mind given the tense nature of most of the situations mentioned – Iran, the Middle East, Afghanistan. One was struck, too, by the geographic lumping-together of our globe. Joining Africa as an apparently single-country? “The Americas.”

Let’s hope the President’s assertions of optimism prove better founded than this take on yesterday’s address.

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