Article 2, Section 3 of the United States Constitution compels the American President to "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". There is no constitutional provision sanctioning the opposition party's rebuttal. But, then again, the Founding Fathers didn't mean for there to be political parties, much less opposition parties.
Enough of that for now.
I want to take this moment to say that this is not a rebuttal per se. I think it is high time that we as Americans detach ourselves from the idea of "us and them" and begin to look at truth. We need to stop worrying about political parties and winning elections as if they were beauty pageants. I want to stress before I go any further that "not Obama" or "Anti-Obama" are not ideologies. They are assertions of a negative feeling and, in themselves, speak nothing of goals, aspirations, or solutions.
Watching the speech tonight, I made a few notes, speaking from a Southern Agrarian point of view and carefully filtering it through my personal Twitter account to remove at least the majority of knee-jerk reactions to what the chief executive had to say.
On the opportunity front, we have to address issues within the American economy. This is where statistics come in and leave free-thinking people scratching their heads. On one hand, we have record low unemployment, while at the same time there are more people unemployed right now than at any other point in U.S. History. There has been stellar job growth but wages have stagnated or even slumped. This is due to manipulation of data - also known as "lies, damned lies, and statistics."
So what we should really do to boost our economy, create opportunity for the vast majority of Americans and lessen the power and influence of the largest and wealthiest corporations, is put the power back in the hands of people. We have to begin to decentralize our economy. Instead of redistributing wealth, we need to redistribute power. We need to change the way we regulate businesses in order to level the playing field for small businesses, including family farms. Tax structures, requiring paid leave, and benefit packages need to be regulated in a manner that doesn't overburden small businesses and even encourages more and more Americans to start their own businesses. We have so much attention being paid to making employers jump through this hoop or that hoop that we are totally neglecting the fact that our economy can and should be driven predominately by small businesses.
One way we can help this growth is to allow new ways for individuals to save for retirement, provide for their own healthcare (in ways that actually work), and trust people with their own destinies. If we trust people with the ability to select the most powerful man in the world, shouldn't we trust them to forge their own futures? For all our debates, arguments, and internet memes, Social Security and Medicare are entitlement programs. They have a purpose in our society but they are not the answer to portability of benefits in a small business economy.
If we are to create an economy that affords the most people with genuine opportunity, education will have to be part of that. I wholeheartedly agree with the president that our education sector needs to recruit and retain the best teachers that we can possibly find. Having been married to one of America's finest educators for almost exactly 17 years, I have come to know a thing or two about the state of education in our country. Let me start by saying that teachers, good teachers, aren't in the field for the money. They're not in it for the so-called "summers off". If you knew everything that goes on behind the scenes - the continuing education, the training, the preparation of units and lessons, and the mounds and mounds of government mandated paperwork. Let me tell you this: if we never raised their pay one penny, never gave them one day off, teachers in this nation would be forever grateful if we simply removed the red tape, bureaucracy, and politics from their job. Good teachers would be forever grateful if schools simply removed the slug teachers that are afforded all the same benefits of a teacher without ever putting in the effort or having the passion for the well being of the kids. You want to attract and retain good quality teachers? The get the government out of their way.
On the collegiate level, we heard the same old word that gets tossed around so much these days. "Free". We continue to throw tax money at colleges who have taken previous tax dollars and bloated their administrations while not improving the situation in the classrooms for either the students or the front line professors. We neglect the fact that "free" money for students equates to "free" money for colleges that can reward their cronies with promotions and office jobs while inflating the cost of tuition by citing the increased cost of operations of such a growing institution. And the government in turn sends more money in the name of making college "affordable". Talk about a gerbil wheel.
Another point on education is the insistence that college be made affordable to "every American". I get the idealism in this claim but reality is here to tell us that college is not for every American and we should not try to build an America where every American can or does go to college. When I was growing up, my dad instilled in me an idea that was passed on to him from a beloved uncle who helped raise him. This uncle was a special man for whom I am named. His formal education ended somewhere around the third grade. But the idea was that if a man has a job, puts in an honest day of work every day, no matter what the job, that man has earned your respect in that regard. To say that the only way a man can be successful requires a college education is to spit in the face of technical education and professional training. We're saying to the men and women who really make America work that they are somehow not worthy of our respect because they fill a role that doesn't require post-secondary education.
If we want to discuss new and innovative ways that we can assure that every deserving, capable, and prepared student can have access to a college as well as ways that every deserving and capable child can be equipped and prepared for college, I'm all ears. If all we want to do is throw more "free" money at a broken educational system, I'm out.
When it comes to jobs, we need to put our efforts into removing the phrase "jobs no American will do" from our collective vocabulary. We need the respect I mentioned above for the laborers and so-called menial workers that do jobs that aren't glamorous or flashy. Without these sorts of jobs we'd be missing food on our tables, our children would be attending nasty schools, our street corners would be piled high with refuse, these are jobs that matter and the people that do them should not be looked down upon for being willing to do them. And we don't need able-bodied Americans living on the dole just because they're too good for one of these jobs. If the American economy is going to work then Americans are going to have to work.
Finally, if we are going to rebuild an America that with a strong economy and opportunity we have to have strong communities. All of these small businesses I mentioned earlier will thrive when people inside our communities do business with each other. you can't complain about huge corporations and mega-banks if you continue to do business with them in lieu of supporting local business.
American is not as well off as it was seven years ago. And it's a far cry from what our Founding Fathers envisioned but all is not lost. The vestiges of the old republic are still there. But if we are going to revive them, we have to think smaller, not bigger. Big corporations, banks, cities, and governments have failed us. We need to empower small businesses, local banks, and communities while shrinking the overarching power of an over-centralized government to allow the small entities to lead the way to a stronger, more sustainable, pasture-raised economy.
Somewhere along the way we bought into the idea that development, commercialization, and industrialization are Conservative ideals and preservation and conservation are liberal ideals.
This is a strange problem.
The ideals that are cited above as Conservative lead to the development of big cities with big corporations and huge populations of big government liberal voters.
Conservatives pride themselves as sportsmen - fishermen and hunters that need for green spaces to be preserved to have places to enjoy their hobbies. Rural areas that remain free of overdevelopment by and large are the strongholds of the Conservative voter base.
When you consider that CONSERVE is the root of Conservative, it seems that people who claim to be Conservative might actually favor conserving something (traditions, culture, history, green space).
Which leaves us with the question: are you really Conservative?
I've kicked around several ideas this week about how to start the posts for 2016. You know, I'm trying to set the mood right.
I want to mention an idea spurred from a comment on Twitter several days ago. The gist is that human history is not a linear progression from less to greater. Just because things are changing and evolving does not mean that things are necessarily getting better. We seem to have this unchallenged belief that progress is always improvement. It's a lie we've become drunk with until we have trouble seeing the alternative.
In the past we've talked about historic and natural preservation. Obviously, we need economic and technical advances on some level to maintain our society. But at what point do we stop and ask ourselves what is an advancement as opposed to what is just something that is flashy or fancy but actually takes away from our quality of life?
Let's look at a photo comparison.
At first glance, using modern reasoning, one could make an assumption that the top photo is a picture of advanced civilization. A world class city. It's developed. It's modern. It's filled with comforts and amenities and all sorts of gadgets to make our lives easier.
On the bottom we see a place of potential. A small home and a few outbuildings would need to be razed in order to properly develop such property. There's some livestock that's probably causing some less than fantastic odors, likely attracting insects, producing fecal matter that isn't quite making it to the advanced sewage treatment facility. There's a rickety barbed wire fence that might be effective at keeping in cows but doesn't meet the standards of our homeowner's association. Maybe if we took out the trees, we could add several homes and a paved two lane road to bring residents in from miles around.
Or perhaps, somewhere in one of those lofty towers there is a man. And he is sick and tired of crime, traffic, smog, sports stadiums that need replacing before the concrete cures, corrupt city governments, a twenty minute elevator ride up to the office, and the rat race in general. Suppose he stands up, flips his desk over, and stomps across it and out the office door. Then he walks down past the elevators as his boss screams down the hall at him like a Nazi junior officer under airborne assault. Suppose he keeps walking down to the stairwell and slides down all the banisters, down 67 flights to the parking deck, folds himself into his sports car and squeals out onto Peachtree Street...or Avenue...or Drive...or Place...or Boulevard...or some other paved thoroughfare that hasn't had a peach tree on it since before the war, and speed his way onto I-75...northbound, before rush hour, flying like a greased Saturn V that's been launched from a canon, leaving tire tracks of fire as he escapes the fracas beneath the lanes of 285 as his gas gauge hand drops like the economy as the fuel injectors squeeze more and more processed dinosaur into his European made combustion machine to get as far from that top picture as he can possibly get, as fast as he possibly can.
Suppose this little setting in the bottom photo is available for someone with his savings level. Suppose he finds it. Suppose he can see the stars at night. Suppose he can smell the fresh mountain air while he sits on his front porch drinking coffee is the misty morning light. Suppose he can learn, or maybe just remember, how to fish or hunt. Suppose he finds a job he enjoys, something that enables him to maintain the little patch of heaven he has found hidden behind a mountain and safe from bulldozers and shopping mall developers.
What if the bottom picture is less "advanced", less cosmopolitan, not as progressed, but it's healthier? What if our test subject is happier and his life is longer and the quality of life he finds is far more valuable than the quantity of life he had in the city? In this scenario, which scene is more advanced? Which scene is more valuable?
Progress is not necessarily advancement. Lack of progress is not necessarily barbaric. A shopping mall is not necessarily an improvement. A wooded floodplain is not necessarily a liability. Go back to the top picture and ask yourself how many acres there could be made available for grazing or row crops. Ask yourself if there is a better, more human, more Agrarian use for all that land. Now which setting looks more valuable?
We need to be more careful in how we analyze these situations and recognize when things are better left undone.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire