What Obama Did and What Obama Did Next

President Obama’s speech Thursday night was the best thing I’ve seen on TV since The West Wing ended. He unveiled the American Jobs Act, sure to be a hit in fifty years with high schoolers all over America studying for finals. The most significant thing about it might not be its potential to boost our economy while pulling a significant portion of the population up by the bootstrap, but the fact that for once it seems Democrats and Republicans may actually work together on something. If your feet are cold right now it’s because of the icy temperatures wafting up from hell – it has clearly frozen over.

I don’t know how much you keep up with the news, but these days it has become a painful exercise to watch – and I used to watch C-SPAN for fun! I mean, I still do, but mostly if I happen to catch a late night broadcast of British parliament because it’s got more sass and yelling than an episode of Real Housewives (and better wigs). But I digress. I keep cable news at an arm’s length because it has become an abusive relationship, also with a lot of yelling, mostly by me at the TV. Much of this frustration comes from a seemingly endless stream of pundits and politicians who all seem to know how to fix everything but rarely take the initiative to do so.

Let’s catch up for a moment. After Obama was elected, a lot of liberal folks were disillusioned that he didn’t immediately fix every leaky faucet they’d been complaining about. The right wing, meanwhile, threw a whole mess of logs on the Tea Party fire and it has since left the grate and is trying to burn down the whole house. After a lot of drama, Obama’s health care plan passed and is being rolled out over the next few years. For example, while it’s no longer legal to deny anyone under 19 health insurance on the basis of a pre-existing condition, I still have to cross my fingers for the next four years that I’ll get coverage because I coughed within the past year. Then, recently, there was a giant (giant) to-do in Congress over the debt-ceiling vote. Here’s a great New York Times article for some light reading. Basically the president was stuck between a rock and a hard place, both the left and right were upset with him, and everyone went home angry. It was such a Bartlett moment, I would have given anything to get Aaron Sorkin and a camera crew into the Oval office.

Ultimately the republicans put their personal and party political goals ahead of what was best for the country, and as far as I’m concerned that’s straight-up treason, or at the very least a total deviation from their job description. Stick that in your nationalist pipe and smoke it (but not in here because it irritates my asthma). This is why it’s such an important shift that both Republicans and Democrats are behind the president’s new American Jobs Act. By which I mean, Speaker John Boehner stated there would be no official Republican response, so naturally every potential republican candidate for the 2012 presidency took the opportunity to criticize the speech (mostly on twitter, the soapbox of choice for the modern politician on the go).

One of Obama’s key points in the speech, repeated numerous times, was that it contained elements agreed upon by both Democrats and Republicans, and that they should pass the Act immediately.

                  “The next election is 14 months away. And the people who sent us here — the people who hired us to work for them — they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months. Some of them are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.”

The main people arguing Obama’s jobs plans are potential Republican candidates, who all have ideas on how they could implement a better plan. Candidates arguing over who can make a better plan are like my family at large gatherings: everyone knows the best way to carve the turkey, but it’ll all get on the plate eventually anyway, so arguing just wastes time that I could spend eating already. (For the record I’m a vegetarian, but that wouldn’t fit this metaphor unless I had voted for Nader.)

So what does this American Jobs Act aim to do? It creates tax incentives for hiring new employees, especially for small businesses. It also aims to focus on strengthening education (which needs all the help it can get, I think at this point schools in third world countries have more textbooks than American public schools – that’s not a fact, don’t quote me), preventing layoffs (up to 280,000 according to the plan) and keeping teachers already in the classroom where they are. This aspect of the Act is especially relevant to women, as they make up 78% of pre-K to 12th grade teachers, according to White House statistics.

In fact, according to a fact sheet from the White House Office of Public Engagement “…employment growth for women has been slower than men during the recovery. Today nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families, so it’s critical that any plan for recovery and job growth include opportunities for women.” This also includes a lot of single mothers, which touches on another goal of the jobs act: to focus on low-income areas, because let’s face it, that’s where unemployment hits hardest. This is also significant because while equal pay is still just a fantasy of second wave feminism, the Obama administration is clearly taking steps to focus specifically on the female half of the population, its contribution, and its needs.

The plan also favors small businesses and aims to nurture them. There are incentives and benefits for newer businesses, as well as for hiring veterans. The budget for the plan is structured so that it won’t create new taxes, but will also focus on modernizing public schools in both rural and urban areas across the country. Basically Obama was mischievous and sneaked education reform into this act. There is even an incentive for employers to hire new employees who have been without work long-term, and prohibiting discrimination against them.

Of course, this is a more complex plan, trying to resolve an even more complex issue. Though we’ve only skimmed the surface, it’s immensely important that we learn as much as possible about this and other pieces of legislation going through Congress. The more we know about what’s going on in local, state and national government, the less likely we are to elect representatives who will abuse the system at our expense. We may not have enough textbooks, or even desks in our schools, but as long as the internet is at our fingertips, there is no excuse for not educating ourselves. This plan is full of the hope, foresight and ambition that the Obama campaign promised, but ultimately it is up to us as citizens to make the informed decisions it takes to make this country truly democratic.


photo from www.whitehouse.gov