State of the Union: Some Questions from the Back Bench
Ruth Flower, FCNL
In tonight’s State of the Union address, the president didn’t say much about the state of the union. He delivered a menu of items, large and small, that he would like Congress to deliver in the remaining 135 days of the congressional session. But he didn’t share with Congress and the nation his assessment of the overall health of this country. So those of us in the back benches are left with a few significant questions.
How are we doing, Mr. President, as a democracy? Our foreign policy is built on the idea of spreading democracy all over the globe. How are we doing here at home? During your term as president, we’ve seen power siphoned from Congress and the courts and concentrated in the White House. You used an avalanche of signing statements and then vetoes and rulemaking to diminish and dismiss the Congress’ role in lawmaking whenever it did not conform to your plans.
Now you are in a dispute with congressional leaders over your wish to commit the U.S. to another international agreement to lock into place a longterm U.S. military presence in Iraq. Congressional leaders say this is a treaty and that the Senate must consider and ratify such an agreement; you say that the commitment is yours alone to make. We elect a representative government to make our laws, Mr. President. That’s how a democratic republic works; that’s what we teach to nations recovering from the rule of dictators.
How is our economy doing, Mr. President? Things seem to be falling apart – can you explain why? Does it have anything to do with the huge debt that we’re accumulating to pay for the war and occupation in Iraq? Or is it because of the things we’re not investing in here at home – education, health care, employment and training? Does the housing mortgage crisis have its roots in the deregulation of banks? Or could our weak economy be a boomerang effect, born of the impact of U.S. policies and programs in other countries –such as NAFTA?
Mr. President, can you explain why a recent government report found that 44% of the children in Detroit live in poor households? And 40% in Atlanta, 38% in Milwaukee35% in Miami and Philadelphia, and 32% in Washington and Chicago? How can that be? Can you share your plan for reducing poverty? Congress just passed a resolution to cut poverty in half in the next 10 years. Do you agree? Is this a national problem and a national responsibility? Why did you veto the bill that would have at least provided health care to these children this year, and the one appropriations bill that provides some relief to these poor families? Why do you insist on federal control of elementary education?
Much of your speech, Mr. President, was focused on trust. In whom should we trust? Our confidence needs to rest on a network of connections with people and nations around the world, not on a single strong ruler and a large and active military force. Our hope for the future and our children’s future would flourish in a world in which the U.S. was once again respected and welcomed as a partner. Do your plans include cooperation with other nations, in internationally controlled arenas such as the United Nations?
Your talk gave us very little by which to assess the state of our nation. Answers to these questions and others raised in your talk tonight might help us to begin an honest assessment and a realistic course correction.