|Response to State of the Union
by SPUSA Co-Chair Billy
January 25, 2011
Tonight’s State of the Union speech revealed just how far out of touch
President Barack Obama is from the reality of working people in
America. What a distance from the White House to the unemployment
line. From the Rose Garden to the food pantry.
Tonight’s State of the Union sent the message one final time that the
Obama presidency was and is designed to protect the privileges accrued
by the richest 5% in society. Obama lived up to the
characterization of him as a “hedge-fund Democrat,” a politician
assigned the task of deflecting the real demands of the American people
for a society and economy based on solidarity, peace and justice.
A Call for More Corporate
The President’s focus on “out competing” other countries, such as China
and India, is a thinly veiled attempt to appeal to national patriotism
made in order to disguise his desire to continue policies of corporate
globalization. China and India are not the problem.
The problem is that people in the US are forced to live inside of an
economy where the richest 5% of the population control 85% of the
wealth. As a result, Obama’s claim to be creating a “more
competitive America” doesn’t mean creating good living wage jobs for
working people. Instead, it means continuing the same policies
that are tailored to protect the wealth accumulated by the rich.
Democratic socialists have an alternative. Instead of playing to
the business community, we need to get serious about creating a
comprehensive plan for a full employment economy. This can be
done through emergency measures, such as the creation of a National
Jobs Program and through more long-term efforts, such as the
funding of a democratically operated system of worker owned and managed
A commitment to full employment would put people to work immediately,
thereby, relieving the skyrocketing unemployment and
underemployment. The Cooperative Program would shift the national
economy away from the financial and service sectors and toward
manufacturing and production.
This democratically run economy would also provide a challenge to
undemocratic capitalist organizations, such as the banks and
multinational corporations. Once Americans experience democracy
on their workplaces, a democratic socialist system of jobs creation
will become a preferred choice for millions.
Americans do not need Bill Clinton “I feel your pain” platitudes.
The Obama speech was full of them. We need jobs - good jobs that
will allow us to feed our families and live lives free of the
uncertainties of crisis economics. If the private sector won’t
provide this, the public sector must be developed. Think of how
much better we would be today if the public money that was poured in
the banking system would have gone to create a full employment
economy. Democratic socialism offers this alternative.
On foreign policy, Obama claimed “that America's moral example must
always shine for all who yearn for freedom, justice, and
dignity.” However, he failed to make any mention in his speech of
his continued operation of the detention center at Guantanamo
Bay. Guantanamo stands as a gross violation of international
human rights. Closing this illegal detention center was a key
claim made by candidate Obama during the 2008 election run.
Today, even after signing an executive order in January 2009 to close
Guantanamo within a year, it remains open and sends the message to the
world that America is willing to violate human rights on a global scale.
In addition, not only has Obama continued Bush’s wars, he has lately
taken to adopting Bush’s rhetoric. President Obama stated that,
“We have also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies
abroad.” In fact, what the Obama administration has done is
re-enforce military occupations while extending the war into Pakistan
through the use of drone bombings.
Just two days prior to the State of the Union Speech, the American
military unleashed a drone attack in Pakistan that killed more than a
dozen people and inspired a 10,000 person anti-drone march in that
region. This was one of more than 400 attacks that have produced
more than 1,500 casualties since 2008. Many of these people were
innocent villagers summarily executed by a machine directed from the
center of the empire.
It is time now for Americans themselves to put an end to American
militarism. We can do this immediately by building a powerful
protest movement to end the wars and occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan
and Pakistan. And we can do more. We can develop a movement
that puts the demand to cut the military budget by 50% at the
To take the money used on war and the military and put it to work to
create a better society for all.
This is the promise of socialism – a world based on peaceful
co-existence in which global solidarity becomes the basis of human
An Austerity President
Near the end of his speech Obama proposed cuts to the Federal budget
including pay freezes and cuts to public programs. The President
provided qualified support to the Deficit Commission who recommended
sharp cuts to the budget “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.” He pledged to carry out spending cuts on “…anything
we cannot afford.”
However, these cuts are exactly the wrong direction for the country to
be headed in. Austerity at any level of government should be
resisted. Cutting Federal spending will have a spiraling effect
on state and local governments who are already engaged in budget
cutting. Federal support is the only thing preventing even deeper
cuts on the local level. The Federal government should be
strengthening these local budgets not forcing more cuts.
And there is one source that can be tapped into to fund not only local
budgeting, but the creation of an array of necessary social survival
programs. Simply put, the rich must pay. Over the past 30
years, America has experienced a class revolution in which the richest
5% of the country has monopolized an astounding amount of
As socialists, we believe that Federal policy should be moving toward a
truly progressive Federal income tax structure that targets the wealth
accumulated by the super rich. This would allow the US to create
a truly excellent education system – one that is free of charge from
pre-K to graduate school. These funds could be used to make a
green transition for industry by creating a publicly administered
energy policy. And, the deep taxation of the rich could
revitalize the country’s ailing transportation system by building a
super-fast national train line, by creating a
green jobs program for the infrastructure and by aggressively
substituting clean energy forms for our current dependence on fossil
Budget cuts will not get us there. Appeasing the top 5% won’t do
it. And trying to manage polluting industries through cap and
trade will do little to stem the tide of global warming. Only a
bold economic plan based on the principles of democratic socialism can
create a truly democratic society that puts people back in control of
their own lives.
What it Will Take
If Obama’s speech does anything, it marks the path that we need to
travel as people interested in creating a free and democratic
society. We cannot lobby our way to such a society. Voting
for the lesser evil won’t work. And continuing to get by on less
while bankers, corporate executives and other members of the elite
enrich themselves is no longer tolerable.
To create a full employment economy, to end the war and shift toward a
peace policy and to create a progressive income tax system, we need a
democratic revolution. We need people all over this country to
awaken from their long political slumber and realize that working
people have to power to make history. Our demands for jobs,
peace and freedom can begin among small circles of people and grow into
a mass movement. We can move from tiny to victorious and now,
more than ever, is the time for action.