Dissecting the State of the Union

Dissecting the State of the Union

Tweeting Cynicism

I may have watched one too many Republican presidential debates. At least that’s what I thought after re-reading my tweets about President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. I detected a note of cynicism in them that I surmise is a symptom of election season fatigue. The president struck strong notes for the middle class when he talked about ending tax breaks for U.S. companies that export jobs overseas, but lost me when he highlighted a laid-off 55-year-old man who found a green energy job. Clearly he hasn’t looked for work in four years.

Through a Middle-Class Lens

For a straightforward report on the speech, check out Cynthia Gordy’s at The Root. She summarized it like this: “The president largely focused on the economy through the lens of the struggling poor and disappearing middle class. Laying out his blueprint for restoring the economy through manufacturing, clean energy, education and a revised tax code, he also touched on what he called ‘the defining issue of our time’ — delivering on the American promise of hard work and responsibility paying off with the ability to own a home, raise a family and retire.”

Others weren’t so generous.

More Partisanship

At The New York Times, John Harwood declared the speech “more partisan than presidential,” saying the president’s “promises to heal the rifts between red America and blue America have fallen flat,” so “he is now trying to highlight his differences with Republicans in an effort to win a second term and new leverage.”

More Spending

Times Columnist Ross Douthat basically agreed, but concluded that “the substance of the speech could be summed up in one word: More.” More spending on, well, everything, “all of it to be paid for, inevitably, by more taxes on the wealthy.”

More Gridlock

The president’s new policies may not do much for Black unemployment, said Perry Bacon Jr. at The Root. This is because experts tie African Americans’ high jobless rates to their disproportionate work in America’s disappearing manufacturing base and in the public sector. “Obama’s speech included a number of ideas to further speed up the revival of American manufacturing. But many of his ideas, such as provisions to raise the tax rates for companies that ship jobs overseas, may not pass the Republican House of Representatives,” Bacon Jr. concluded.

More Republican Critique

Newser has a nice summary of Republican responses to the speech, including that of Herman “I’m Not Going Away” Cain. He focuses on Tea Party complaints like “Obamacare,” class warfare, and the “liberal media,” Newser reported. Cain also reportedly said sexual impropriety allegations like the ones that derailed his campaign have failed against Newt Gingrich because “the American people are waking up to dirty, gutter politics.”

Oh, is that why? Whoops. My cynicism is showing again.

What do you think?

Did the president’s speech inspire you or merely tire you?

2011 News Highlights

2011 News Highlights

POLITICS

Protesters descended on cities across the country to make their cases for the preservation or elimination of federal programs.

1. In politics, the battle over the federal budget raged all year.  Lisa Sharon Harper offered thoughts on a Christian approach to it,  others debated whether or not to lift the federal debt ceiling, and former New Jersey Secretary of State Rev. De Forest Soaries offered his thoughts on a potential deal, which some described as a Satan Sandwich.  As a  government shutdown loomed, a congressional “super-committee” failed to compromise, and the battle rages on.

Sparks flew with Herman Cain on the campaign trail. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

2. The 2012 presidential race heated up and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain briefly emerged as a Republican dark horse. We looked at his viability, asked if his candidacy was good for Americarealized he wouldn’t be easily written off, and lamented the scandal about which he may or may not have sung as he exited the race. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann speculated that blacks may have been better off under slavery and Larycia A. Hawkins offered the congresswoman a bit of advice. Texas governor Rick Perry limped along, but it seems his ‘Rainbow Right‘ coalition didn’t help him much, and fleeting front-runners Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were such long shots that they had nary a mention here until now.

3. Meanwhile, the Tea Party partied on and we talked to African Americans about the movement. First singer, author, and activist Loyd Marcus assured us that there are black Tea Partiers, then Tea Party activist Jesse Lee Peterson threatened to protest the NAACP’s annual convention and Hilary O. Shelton responded. Finally, LaVonne Neff reminded us that Tea Partiers need government programs too.

The Occupy Movement spread across the country.

4. From the other end of the political spectrum, the “Occupy” movement emerged and encamped across the country, but we asked: Is it too white and is it time for churches to take up the cause?

5. According to members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the biggest religion story of the year was the faith response to the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Here at UrbanFaith, Todd Burke pondered what the terrorist’s death says about America.

INTERNATIONAL

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested and sentenced to death in Iran because of his Christian beliefs.

In international news, 1.) dictators Kim Jong-Il and Moammar Gadhafi died. UrbanFaith editorial director Ed Gilbreath provocatively asked if Ghadhafi was a martyr and Helen Lee, daughter of a North Korean refugee, shared her thoughts on what it means to love an enemy like Jong-Il. 2.) The Arab Spring captured our attention and historian Kurt Werthmuller offered lessons from the revolution. We covered 3.) various crisis in Africa, including those in  SomaliaUganda, Malawi, and Sudan, and 4.) we wondered if race played a role in the London riots that preceded the European financial crisis. Finally, 5.) DeVona Alleyne reminded us that real persecution is that which is faced by believers like Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death for his faith.

CULTURE & SOCIETY

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in August.

On the cultural front, 1.) the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial finally opened, though not without controversy and not without delay.  2.) Historian Charles Marsh reflected on the death of Civil Rights icon and pastor Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. 3.) Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs’ also died this year and Jelani Greenridge meditated on the entrepreneur’s wisdom. 4.) The nation solemnly observed the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and dedicated a memorial at the World Trade Center site, as the war in Iraq that those attacks spurred finally came to an end. 5.) The 150th anniversary of Civil War went largely unnoticed, but not by us. And sadly, 6.) legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired amidst a scandal over assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged pedophilia. Wil LaViest, Julian DeShazier, and I responded to the horrific news.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

After 25 years Oprah Winfrey says goodbye to her talk show.

1.) In arts and entertainment, Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show after 25 years and we revisited the “Church of Oprah.” No need to fear a loss of black media power, however because 2.)  Forbes named Tyler Perry the richest man in Hollywood. We covered elements of his media empire here, here, here, and here. 3.) The Help opened in cinemas amidst plenty of debate about its merits or lack thereof. 4.) Controversial Gospel music crossover success stories like that of Tonéx got Jelani Greenridge thinking and we mourned the death of cross-over artist Jessy Dixon. 5.) Lastly, BET’s successful relaunch of The Game deserves a mention, even though our commentator didn’t care much for the values of the show (or lack thereof).

CHURCH & FAITH

Bishop Eddie Long and Rev. Bernice King before she left his church.

In church and faith news, 1.) Bishop Eddie Long agreed to a financial settlement with four young men who accused him of sexual misconduct, Bernice King left his church in the aftermath, questions continued to swirl about the allegations, but Long didn’t step down from the pulpit until his wife filed for divorce this month. In better news, 2.) The Hartford Institute for Religion Research reported that the black church is bucking a wider trend toward congregational decline, and 3.) the Southern Baptists got serious about diversity with the election of  Rev. Fred Luter as their first African American vice president. We also reported on other denominations that are pursuing diversity. 4.) Pastor Rob Bell stirred up a theological hornet’s nest with his latest book and conservative authors responded. 5.) Finally, Rev. Zachery Tims met an untimely death in a New York City hotel room.

What do you think?

What stories did we miss? Which ones will you remember? What do you think will top the news in 2012?

The White House & Black Unemployment

The White House & Black Unemployment

Obama Is Stepping Up His Game

As Republican presidential candidates continued to rumble their way across the country, the Obama administration stepped up its game this week, publishing a Pathways to Opportunity report that outlined what the administration claims to have done and intends to do to get the unemployed back to work, and engaging with voters on the economy.

While President Obama embarked on the American Jobs Act bus tour, The Root hosted a live-streamed discussion Thursday with White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and outgoing Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes about poverty, and African American poverty in particular.

Jarrett and Barnes mostly repeated talking points from the report and promoted the jobs act as they fielded questions from a live audience and from Twitter and Facebook.

Jarrett said Republicans want to see the president fail, but the jobs bill isn’t about him. “This is about what’s good for our country,” she said.

Barnes said the president is resolved to keep pushing Republicans to pass the bill, but the senate rejected a scaled down version Thursday and the Associated Press reported that Democratic support for the measure is dwindling and “future votes on individual pieces of the measure … aren’t likely to fare better.”

Americans Are Fed Up With Government

To make matters worse for the incumbent president, a new Gallup poll suggests that Americans are more fed up with government than with business.

“Americans are more than twice as likely to blame the federal government in Washington (64%) for the economic problems facing the United States as they are the financial institutions on Wall Street (30%),” Gallup reported.

Why Now, Mr. President?

The Root’s Cynthia Gordy asked Jarrett and Barnes why the report and the jobs act are being introduced now.

“We decided to draft the report in many ways to respond to questions about what we have done,” said Barnes, before recounting ways she says the administration has been addressing poverty issues from “day one,” including the 2009 economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act, expansion of tax credits, summer jobs for youth, and health care reform.

“We’ve been working on this since we set foot in the White House,” said Barnes.

Barnes on Getting Out of the Hot Seat

Barnes also confirmed reports that she is leaving the administration at the end of the year to spend time with family and pursue private sector opportunities.

Asked what the most significant policy she developed is, Barnes said choosing would be like picking one child over another. Even so, she said she is especially proud of her work on education and described early, primary, and post-secondary education as a three-legged stool upon which to build success.

To illustrate her point, she recounted how her father went to college on the GI bill while she was a little girl and fondly recalled sitting next to him as he studied at the library. She also said her maternal grandmother worked in a tobacco factory and that her mother went to college on a scholarship

“Education changes lives; it changes communities,” said Barnes, as she expressed wonder at how it led to her own ascent to the White House.

Earlier she had recounted how “little old ladies at church” would tell her how proud they were of her, but would balk at the scope of her domestic policy task.

Jarrett affirmed Barnes’ passion, commitment, drive, and “second to none” breadth of policy knowledge. “If I go much further, we’ll both start crying, so I’m going to stop,” said Jarrett.

Is Obama Backing Away From People of Faith?

UrbanFaith asked (via Twitter) what the administration is doing to support the faith based groups that are filling in service gaps, and if the president is backing away from these groups? The broadcast ended before the question was answered, but the Democratic National Committee announced yesterday that it had hired Rev. Derrick Harkins, senior pastor of Washington D.C.’s historically Black Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, as its new director of faith outreach so, at least from a political standpoint, he appears ready to embrace them.

The Middle Class Is Recovering?

Meanwhile, at a Virginia stop on his bus tour, President Obama sounded positively conservative when he said, “It’s going to take time to rebuild the kind of America in which everybody has a fair shot, everybody is paying their fair share; where responsibility is rewarded; where the deck is not stacked against middle-class families.” He also claimed that the middle class is growing, solid, and secure again.

Is Obama Avoiding Black Communities?

But an article at Politico about tensions between the president and California Rep. Maxine Waters contrasted the Congressional Black Caucus’s summer jobs tour with Obama’s efforts, noting that he has largely avoided stops in Black cities and neighborhoods.

The Psychology of Black Unemployment

Setting aside the politics of Black unemployment for a moment, the North Dallas Gazette published a compelling article Thursday about its psychology. In it, University of Michigan Sociologist Alford Young Jr., Ph.D. said the stress of constantly thinking about supplementing insufficient income “provides an interesting spin on the long-standing notion that Black people, particularly lower income folk only live for today.”

The article said challenges remain, but researchers “retain their optimism for the future in part because of the past resiliency and creativity of the African American community.”

What do you think?

Has the Obama Administration avoided African American concerns or has the president done what he could in a political and social environment that rarely prioritizes them?