President Obama appeared before Congress Tuesday evening to deliver a State of the Union address reaffirming his commitment to a progressive second term.
As Washington remains deeply divided, the president made it clear he is prepared to bring his proposals to the American people if Republicans continue to obstruct his agenda.
The middle class was once again center stage in Obama’s speech. He laid out policies and initiatives to expand educational opportunity, improve the voting process, combat climate change and reduce gun violence.
The president proposed working with states to make quality preschool available to every child in America.
“Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road,” Obama said.
“But today, fewer than 3 in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.”
The president continued that each dollar we invest in education saves us seven when higher graduation rates, reductions in teen pregnancy and violent crime are factored into the equation.
He also proposed rewarding high schools that choose to partner with colleges and employers — aiming to make our high school graduates more competitive in the job market and more prepared for a post-secondary education.
To combat the soaring rates of college tuition, Obama challenged Congress to change the Higher Education Act, which would take into consideration affordability and value in determining which colleges and universities receive federal aid.
Also notable in the president’s speech was the formation of a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting process.
“When any Americans — no matter where they live or what their party — are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals,” the president said.
The president was speaking about one of his guests for the evening, a woman named Desiline Victor. Victor lives in North Miami, and on Election Day when she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait might be six hours. She waited. No one should wait six hours to vote, much less someone of Victor’s age — or someone who can’t miss six hours of a workday to stand in line.
Finally, Obama once again spoke candidly regarding the issue of climate change.
“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change,” the president said.
“Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires and floods — all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”
Whereas many Republicans deny the science, the vast majority of Americans believe we must address climate change.
Although many Republicans oppose funding our schools and providing equal opportunity to every child, Americans realize that education is an investment for the future.
And while Republicans view background checks and an assault weapons ban as extreme, Americans realize that common-sense gun control is well within the mainstream.
If Republicans in Washington refuse to work with the White House, the president signaled he will take his case to the American people — and he’ll win.
Sean Higgins is a political science and sociology double-major from Brookings, S.D. Follow him on Twitter @seanmhiggins.