Obama's 2014 Sotu: Empowering Citizens Or Fostering Minions?


Making 2014 a “year of action”

President Barack Obama delivered his 2014 State of the Union address last Tuesday (Jan. 28). This year his focus appears to be on the people, but not all people — only his citizens.

Obama touched on several hotly-debated topics and dubbed 2014 as the “year of action,” which invoked mixed reactions from both members of Congress and the public. My initial reaction was subdued by the lack of action and lies haunting Obama’s past.

Why now? — my ultimate question of the night.

Early in his speech, Obama mentioned how the debate pertaining to the proper size of government is hindering progress. He even went on to acknowledge the disservice to the American people that resulted from the government shut down in 2013.

“So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” Obama said.

The executive branch of government has been absorbing power by any means with faulty justification for years. George W. Bush played a notable role in transforming our government infrastructure to resemble a monarchy more than a republic. Constitutional lawyer and journalist Glenn Greenwald examines this trend in his book With Liberty and Justice for Some.

“The Nixon pardon, and the way it was sold to the country, became the template for justifying elite immunity,” Greenwald wrote. The mantra regurgitated by such criminal elites: we need to focus on the future and not get caught up with mistakes from the past.

Diving into the past: some historical context

Nixon’s vice president, Gerald Ford, was responsible for sidelining the rule of law, and openly admits it in his memoir A Time to Heal: “I learned that public policy often took precedence over a rule of law. Although I respected the tenet that no man should be above the law, public policy demanded that I put Nixon—and Watergate—behind us as quickly as possible.”

Elite immunity didn’t cease with Nixon, it simply paved the way for future culprits. And when the path isn’t fully paved, retroactive immunity is always an option. Telecommunication companies received retroactive immunity after the 2005 warrantless wiretapping scandal surfaced.

Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 as a response to Nixon’s unlawful monitoring of political and activist groups. FISA explicitly prohibits telecom companies from handing over private information to the government without a court warrant, yet they willingly chose to violate the law. And still to this day, there have been no consequences.

The Bush administration’s transformation into a unilateral force extends beyond illegal wiretapping. Bush neglected the rule of law on an international scale as well. The torture that takes place at Guantanamo Bay violates the Geneva Conventions, which establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of war.

Before Obama even became president he spoke out against Guantanamo Bay. Upon entering his presidency, Obama failed to order any formal investigation into the Bush administration’s involvement with the detention camp. Obama already promised to close Guantanamo Bay once, and I find it insulting that he would make the same promise twice. I didn’t realize his first promise had an expiration date.

Terrorism lingers

It’s become clear that the executive branch has turned war into its own form of domestic terrorism. War enables the president to spread fear and justify barbaric actions in the name of national security.

"We have to remain vigilant.  But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone. As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office,” Obama said.

Whether the public likes it or not, Obama feels compelled to dictate on our behalf. It’s for our protection. Our safety is at risk. We need our government.

Obama contradicted himself within his own speech when he said, “If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.”

I believe Obama addresses a good point here, despite the contradiction. Did Kennedy or Reagan need to infringe on our civil liberties in order to protect the country? While Obama admits we’ve made mistakes as a country, he doesn’t elaborate much.

“Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged," Obama said. "But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress – to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.”

If he respected the rule of law, he should have proved it during his first term. Obama had five years to “take action.” Again, why now?

The NSA revelations leaked by Edward Snowden have been waking up people around the world to the treats posed by the U.S. government itself. The Obama administration has been forced to react and make policy changes, but has suffered from a lack of trust and accountability.

The ultimate question: Is Obama empowering citizens or fostering minions?

Let’s look at some ways Obama defines a citizen:

“Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote. Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened. But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it; and the bipartisan commission I appointed last year has offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote. Let’s support these efforts.  It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy.”

Note: “It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy.”

“Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day.  I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.”

Clearly this is a complete opinion. I don’t think being a citizen requires one to be an anti-gun advocate. Nice rhetoric here though. I sit on the pacifist end of the violence spectrum, but I will never support anti-gun legislation with our current system of government in place.

“Citizenship demands a sense of common cause; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities.  And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.”

In contrast to the anti-gun advocate requirement, killing nonAmericans makes one the ultimate citizen. Mass murder is acceptable, and even encouraged in some cases, but only if it’s intended to decrease the nonAmerican population.

Clearly, things have gone to shit in this country. My generation inherited a dehumanizing, polluted world, and the powers that continue to be still cling to such a broken system with the same greed that got us here in the first place.

It’s time for things to change. People around the world (not just the U.S.) need to make 2014 a year of action regardless. Let’s progress the world together, not just passively follow an aspiring dictator of a president.

Photo Credit: 2011 State of the Union Obama




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