In his final State of the Union address, President Obama, looking at the 2016 political landscape, put forth the challenge, “The future we want… will only happen if we fix our politics.” He utters, “We the People…words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together.”
Is Obama encapsulating his description of ‘we the people’ to set in motion a self-denying prophecy? In 2016, who gets what, when, where, and how has fractured the people.
Let’s face facts. The Democratic majorities in both houses of the 111th Congress between 2008 and 2010 set the tone for President Obama’s lack of necessity to cultivate compromise among Republicans for his agenda. Trying to corral Democratic votes for his agenda was difficult enough. Two years later in 2010, the tea party evangelicals levitated their way into the Republican Party in the 112th Congress with an agenda inspired by their coupling of religion and politics. From that moment on, the Republican Party declared themselves to be obstructionists uniting around the sentiment that the first thing on the GOP agenda is to defeat the president of the United States. It’s not a secret that district reapportionment after the 2010 census was rife with partisan politics. We are now within weeks of the first primaries in 2016, the gloves are off, negative campaign is getting into full swing and not many parents want their kids to grow up to be politicians.
It is certainly appropriate for the president to celebrate his administration’s achievements. The Affordable Care Act has expanded healthcare for 12–18 million Americans, depending on the source. There has been a consistently declining unemployment rate now at 5 percent, and reinvigoration of ‘diplomacy first in international affairs’ significantly expands the ‘we the people’ paradigm.
The president offered no apologies for a strong national defense military budget. He proudly asserted that the United States defense spending is almost as much as the next eight nations’ budgets combined. He rattled off several more examples of U.S. power, including the authorizing of 10,000 air strikes aimed at ISIL targets, the maintaining of military bases throughout the world, and the relentless killing of terrorists he claims has earned the United States, like it or not, the title of the U.S. empire — the world’s leading hegemon. As the president enumerated these acts of strength with a rising crescendo, I thought for sure the chant USA USA USA was going to be shouted from his partisans, and even the forever staid Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Make no mistake, there is a state of dis-union in our country; yet the president resolved to be aspirational in his words. In spite of our systemic problems of racism, inequality, structural underemployment, the accumulation of wealth in increasingly fewer hands, campaign financing, inequitable pay for women and many other issues, the president refused to call our political system dysfunctional.
More than any State of the Union address in generations, Obama entered the upcoming political campaign by defining the choices as he views them. Democrats — hope, success, and rationality; pitted against, Republicans — fear, anger, and irrationality. The chief party leader exacerbated the bifurcation of our collective political consciousness.
The 2016 Presidential election has already been analyzed as the most unpredictable of any presidential race. Elections are the last firewall in democracies where people can protect their inalienable right to participate in the process of electing our leaders. May they choose wisely, and, may they even consider that the paradigm of politics is in need of a great shift if ‘we the people’ are to recreate democracy.
Originally published in TheHill.com