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State of the Union: Read Between the Lines

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III | 1/30/2014, midnight
In order to accurately assess President Obama's fifth State of the Union address, it's important to understand a bit of ...
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

"Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by — let alone get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all." — President Obama, State of the Union 2014

In order to accurately assess President Obama's fifth State of the Union address, it's important to understand a bit of the history behind the speech.

Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution states, "He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient..."

Until Woodrow Wilson became president, his predecessors provided a written report to Congress every year or two years. Wilson, with a strong background in public administration saw the role of the president as the chief legislative leader and representative of the people. He was president from 1913-1921 and he started the tradition of delivering the SOU to a joint session of Congress in order to set a tone and lay out his legislative agenda.

As technology developed, the political significance of the speech took on greater significance as well. With the advent of radio and then television, presidents saw their ability to reach the American public directly, articulate their agenda, and shape perception as an important political opportunity. In 1923 President Calvin Coolidge was the first SOU to be broadcast on radio. In 1947 President Harry S. Truman was the first to broadcast his SOU on television.

President Obama's assessment or statement of the obvious was correct. His solutions were lacking and deficient. More of the truth can be found in not what was said but in what was not said. Read between the lines.

Those at the top, the "One-Percent" as they have come to be known have never done better. According to Forbes, "In 2012, U.S. non-financial companies filled their coffers with an additional $130 billion, taking their total cash to a record $1.45 trillion as the economy has stagnated and the labor market has moved sideways." But as he talks about developing policies to "strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class" he's talking about income inequality not wealth inequality. Income inequality has to do with salary and wages. Wealth inequality has to do with assets and power. President Obama is talking about pay equity for women and raising the minimum wage not forcing corporations in American to reinvest their record profits back into America. Those two are quite different.

I realize President Obama said, "Let's work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home" but he's been saying that since 2009. His 6th SOU would have been the perfect time to offer the substantive legislation to the American people to address the issue.