Your Turn: The State of the Union

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Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Boehner, SOTU 2014

President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)

While political pundits have been busy broadcasting their views on President Obama’s State of the Union address, we wanted to know what regular Americans thought of his speech last night. For that, we turned to our Facebook page, where close to 3,000 people weighed in when we asked for feedback.

A central theme that emerged from Obama’s speech was his call for the government to work on behalf of all Americans, along with his pledge to work independently of Congress if need be. “Let’s make this a year of action,” Obama said. “That’s what most Americans want — for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.” That moment clearly resonated with our community, who expressed anger at the gridlock in Washington. As Melodie Milhoan put it: “[Obama] did a great job reminding Congress that they are supposed to represent the American people.”

On one issue after another, Obama’s promised to go it alone if Congress refused to work with him, which drew praise from some who felt that without cooperation from lawmakers, the president had no other choice. Debra Fraser wrote: ” I truly hope he uses his executive power to bypass the obstructionists in Congress.” But others were concerned that Obama’s confrontational tone — threatening to veto new Iran sanctions, warning against future votes against his health-care law and demanding action on a series of economic measures — sounded like a power grab.

As expected, Obama spoke about inequality, and when he did, a number of people re-posted his statements, especially this one: “No one who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.” The president was applauded for issuing an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour. And others were enthusiastic when Obama called on American companies to raise the minimum wage. As Robin Cook Wooten put it: “SAY YES! Give America a raise! Yes Yes Yes!” Parthena Rodriguez used Obama’s “easy to remember” wage increase as a chance to take a swipe at legislatures. “$10.10 sounds like a perfect wage for Congress.”

“You can’t say climate change is real and then promote dangerous fracking for fossil fuels.” — Amy Ward Brimmer
While inequality was billed as central to the president’s speech, some felt Obama didn’t delve deeply enough into the issue, such as Ann J Wyly who wrote: “There was not enough on inequality and the reasons why it has gotten so out of hand.”

While the president got the thumbs up for acknowledging that “climate change is a fact,” his push for natural gas was a major disappointment, with scores raising concerns about fracking. Here’s what Amy Ward Brimmer had to say: “You can’t say climate change is real and then promote dangerous fracking for fossil fuels.” And this from Mark Hackler: “He scored some cheap political points by calling out the Republicans on climate change, but he only gets real points if he cancels the [Keystone] pipeline.”

The president called for collaboration on the bipartisan trade promotion authority, which is expected to pave the way for the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), angering many. Jerry Ryberg wrote: “This corporate power-grab would NOT create good jobs, just the opposite. These “trade deals” have never been anything but a net job loss, and a bigger trade deficit for America.”

What was missing? According to our community, quite a bit on major issues including campaign finance reform — which Scoutie McScouterson said was at the “heart of our dysfunction” — as well as the West Virginia water spill, the Keystone pipeline, FISA, NASA, drug sentencing laws, workers’ rights and more. The single sentence devoted to the National Security Agency, in which the president said he would reform America’s surveillance programs to ensure that the privacy of ordinary people is not violated, fell short for some.

While the president did say he intended to keep trying to stop “more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters and our shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook,” several people said they would have liked to have heard much more on gun control.

“This was the Obama I voted for, positive and demonstrative.” — Marna Lister

Overall, there was much positive feedback on Obama’s State of the Union address, with some going as far as saying it was one of the president’s best speeches yet. In fact, a number of people said Obama displayed the energy that helped him get elected in the first place. “This was the Obama I voted for, positive and demonstrative,” said Marna Lister and Nick Vukson, “I remember again why I voted for him.”

But not everyone was feeling optimistic following the speech, as Jonathan R. Espinal comment illustrates, “Gilded words that fall short on actually delivering what they promise.” And this from Corbin Fowler: “The State of the Union is awful for many Americans, and it will take a lot more than a good speech to remove the main problem: a political system wholly corrupted by big pockets. The major problems facing our society’s future, and the future of human civilization are being ignored. Fiddling while the planet burns.”

Karin Kamp is a multimedia journalist and producer. She has produced content for, NOW on PBS and WNYC public radio and worked as a reporter for Swiss Radio International. She also helped launch The Story Exchange, a site dedicated to women’s entrepreneurship.

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