Opinion: Why Obama’s SOTU doesn’t mean anything—yet


The buzz over President Obama’s State of the Union Address last Tuesday was phenomenal. Millions of Americans around the country watched as the president laid out his plans for working with Congress and essentially kicked off his re-election campaign for 2012. The address was broadcasted by all the major news stations and the topic even swept across social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

First, let me just say I can understand the buzz. Obama came out and said exactly what he needed to say. He addressed the economic inequalities of our country; he talked about diminishing corporate influence on politics; he advocated cutting wasteful spending and bringing troops home; he addressed the need for educational reform; he expressed the importance of moving towards renewable resources; and he put the focus on the people, not petty, bipartisan politics. All of these are relevant and imperative issues facing our nation right now.

But the speech fell miserably short in one crucial respect: credibility. If you recall, Obama’s 2008 election campaign was filled with many grand promises that were flatly and pathetically dropped during his time in the White House.

According the website PolitFact.com, which specializes in fact-checking politicians, Obama neglected his promises to close the secret off-shore prison Guantanamo Bay, raise capital gains and income taxes for high-income tax payers, create a foreclosure prevention fund for homeowners, repeal the Bush tax cuts for higher incomes, withdraw troops from Iraq, sign the Employee Free Choice Act (helping unions unionize), forbid companies in bankruptcy for giving bonuses… the list goes on and on. For the full list, which is pages long, you can visit the website yourself.

While some of the blame can be place on a divided, incompetent Congress, many of these broken promises are his fault and simply inexcusable. The president could have lobbied to end the Bush tax cuts; he had sole power to withdraw troops from the constitutionally undeclared war in Iraq; he simply neglected to sign the Employee Free Choice Act; and he took steps backwards on ending corporate corruption. These broken promises are so inexcusable that even the most fervent Obama supporter is forced to ask, “Does he really mean it this time?”

You can cross your fingers all you want, but I prefer to put my faith in a movement that doesn’t just preach change, democracy, and justice—it lives it.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement, which has been going on since mid-September, is the entirely grass-roots, non-partisan movement calling to get money out of politics and restore justice on Wall Street.

A major reason why Obama has defaulted on so many of his campaign promises is that once in office he felt obligated to repay the financial institutions that funded his campaign in the first place. Goldman Sachs contributed over 1,000,000 dollars to Obama’s campaign through Super PAC funds, and then Obama, despite campaign promises, bailed out the financial institution when it went under for corruption and exploitation of the working class. Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions like it played a huge role in creating the economic collapse just years earlier, but Obama, because of corporate influence, was held accountable to the top 1% and not the 99% who elected him.

This is why the Occupy movement is so important to everyone. Obama’s speech was great, but it doesn’t mean anything until the loyalty of politicians is redirected to the people and not the corporations who fund campaigns. That’s why so many people are out in the streets protesting and fighting despite humiliation and media mischaracterization.

The movement has even caught the attention of some legislators. Last Tuesday on the House floor, Rep. Dennis Kucinich proposed House Joint Resolution 100, which would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commissions. This constitutional amendment would require that all federal campaigns be financed by public funds and would effectively ban the influence of interest groups on elections.

As Rep. Kucinich said himself on the floor last Tuesday, “I urge my colleagues to support H. J. Res. 100 so that we can break the golden shackles which are imprisoning this government right now and get rid of corporate influence once and for all.”

These “golden shackles” are what make speeches like the one Obama gave last Tuesday hard to believe in. After hearing the president’s State of the Union Address, you might think occupiers and Obama have much in common. They both preach change, justice, and equality; the only difference is that when an unemployed mom of two says it on a freezing street corner, she really means it.