When it comes to the big speeches, President Obama doesn’t disappoint. His nearly 80-minute State of the Union address didn’t so much talk about income inequality as it did economic insecurity. The president talked about the middle-class writ large: those who aspire to it, those who are nestled in it, those who are struggling to hang on to it and those who are trying to get back in it. Obama was long on warmth and mercifully short on wonkery. And he did this by weaving his call for a “year of action” on behalf of the American people with the stories of the American people.
Amanda Shelley exemplified the fulfilled promise of the Affordable Care Act.
A pre-existing condition used to mean that someone like Amanda Shelley, a physician assistant and single mom from Arizona, couldn’t get health insurance. But on January 1st, she got covered. On January 3rd, she felt a sharp pain. On January 6th, she had emergency surgery. Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would’ve meant bankruptcy.
That’s what health insurance reform is all about — the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything.
Estiven Rodriguez represented the power of access to education.
Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age nine. But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications. And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall.
Nick Chute and John Soranno personified the benefit of raising the minimum wage.
In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs. Many businesses have done it on their own. Nick Chute is here tonight with his boss, John Soranno. John’s an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough. Only now he makes more of it: John just gave his employees a raise, to ten bucks an hour – a decision that eased their financial stress and boosted their morale.
Tonight, I ask more of America’s business leaders to follow John’s lead and do what you can to raise your employees’ wages. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for America.
Obama punctuated this story by calling on Congress to pass a bill that would raise the national minimum wage to $10.10. To great applause, the president urged Congress to “Say yes. Give America a raise.”
And the powerful story of Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, reminded us that the freedoms we hold dear are neither free nor come without sacrifice.
[O]n his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain. For months, he lay in a coma. And the next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak, could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, hours of grueling rehab every day … And, day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again. And he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again. “My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”
But in showing the power of access to opportunity, Obama went very personal and bipartisan early on in his speech. it was part of a larger riff on the wish of the American people for Washington to stop the fighting and move the nation forward.
They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That’s what drew our forebears here. It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker. How the son of a barkeep is Speaker of the House. How the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth.
The automaker CEO was Mary Barra of General Motors. The son of a single mom was Obama, of course. And the son of a barkeep was Speaker John Boehner. It was a warm moment that earned a thumbs up from the Ohio Republican to the Illinois Democrat. In that instant you saw a glimmer of hope that the bipartisan spirit that once ruled Capitol Hill would roam those hallowed halls once more. Pity, with four Republican responses to Obama’s address, we all know that that glimmer of hope is fleeting.
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