‘Hope’ Without Jobs Is Dead

‘Hope’ Without Jobs Is Dead

REDISCOVERING HIS SWAG: President Barack Obama presents his jobs speech before a Joint Session of Congress on Sept. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

As one of my Facebook friends posted last night, “President Obama has got his swag back.” And right on time, too. Although President Obama has been criticized in recent months for being long on compromise and short on muscle, he combined both in his jobs speech to Congress last night. Like the refrain in a treasured hymn, Obama repeatedly charged Congress to “pass this jobs plan right away” as he laid out the “American Jobs Act.”

In his characteristic commonsensical approach, Obama also told Congress and the country that nothing in his bill was controversial or had not been passed by some of these very Democrats and Republicans in the past. Some of the perks in the bill include: payroll taxes cut in half next year for small business owners, the repair and modernization of at least 35,000 schools, rehiring of laid off teachers, tax credits for companies that hire veterans and people who have been looking for a job for more than six months and a $1,500 tax cut for a typical working family. So what’s not to love in this bill?

After touting some of the benefits that everyone could agree on, Obama got into the nitty-gritty, attacking the sacred cows of the opposing sides. To the Dems, he said that Medicare needed to be reformed point blank and that “we are spending too fast to sustain the program.” And to the Repubs, he said “a few of the most affluent citizens and corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets.” To drive home his point of irony, he mentioned that Warren Buffet has a lower tax rate than his secretary. Can we say a collective and prolonged, “Ouch?!” I’ll wait …

And Obama had a word for the rabble-rousing Tea Partiers too: government, in and of itself, is not evil. He reminded us how government built the transcontinental railroad, launched the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land grant colleges, passed the GI Bill, and funded research leading to the creation of our beloved Internet. 

And all of this hope and change comes with a price tag of reportedly $447 billion in tax cuts and government spending.

Although Obama attempted to steer the conversation away from an election still over a year away, I can’t help but wonder if his “Clint Eastwood-esque” speech, a speech reminiscent of his best election speeches, is just the bullet he needed to have a fighting chance in the 2012 election. After the debt ceiling fiasco, I’m thinking Congress better act in a balanced way toward this bill (i.e., putting the welfare of Americans first and their political careers last). If not, they will face the biblical principle of what is first being made last. For the GOP presidential candidates, their refrain is the same: spending bad, Obama bad. No surprise there.

The president’s speech may be a good start, but you know what they say about action versus words. In other words, faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). If a person needs a job, and we shout, “This person needs a job,” but then no job is offered, what good is shouting? Good deeds must follow faith. Abraham followed up his faith by his willingness to sacrifice his son. Rahab the prostitute followed up her faith by hiding the Hebrew spies and leading them to a safe path.

What got Obama elected in the first place was not just his impassioned speeches but the fact that he was not a member of the commanding party that failed to act for the people (instead the corporate elite) as the economy tanked. While Obama will always be remembered as a great orator and even the president that passed health-care reform and took down bin Laden, if he does not inspire Congress to act in a way that produces tangible economic results — i.e., jobs — that can be listed 14 months from now, Obama’s reelection campaign might be dead on arrival.

Of course, the reality is that neither Congress nor the president really controls jobs or the economy. But as Obama’s renewed urgency suggests, that fact doesn’t mean anything to the American voters come Election Day. Likely, the only thing that will matter then is whether they — and their laid-off neighbors and their kids who just graduated from college and their friends from church whose companies went out of business — are working.

Beware of Presidents Promoting Education

Beware of Presidents Promoting Education for urban faithThe most controversial “stay in school” speech in the history of America came and went today, and the general consensus is that our kids were not seriously injured by President Obama’s words.

In a speech that brought criticism from conservatives who were afraid that Obama sought to deliver a political message to America’s students, the president stressed the importance of personal responsiblity and told students that “[w]e need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems.”

He added, “If you quit on school, you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.”

With all the emotion that preceded the speech, one would’ve thought that the president was planning to entice students to burn American flags or worship Darwin. And likely for many citizens, no matter how positive or inspirational Obama’s words were, they were tainted by virtue of the messenger.

Thankfully, Obama was not advocating flag burning or evolution. What he did share was a message that, at worst, could challenge students to think twice before giving up on their education; and, at best, inspire them to work their hardest to be tomorrow’s doctors, scientists, lawyers, and presidents.

[W]e can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world — and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; you pay attention to those teachers; you listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and you put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

In the lead up to the speech, I witnessed many folks, including some leaders of my own children’s school district, complain that the event would be an unnecessary disruption in the school day and distract our kids from real learning. But it could be argued that Obama’s speech was as important to “real learning” as any math or spelling test.

Obama’s not allowed to talk about the fact that he’s America’s first African American president too much, but the truth is — he’s America’s first African American president!

And not just that. He also is America’s first biracial president, who was raised in a single-parent home, whose cultural background puts him at odds with what many Americans have come to expect in terms of presidential pedigree.

Though he is the President of the United States — the president of all Americans — Obama seems intrinsically aware of the fact that just by standing up and telling people that school is important, he can speak profound encouragement into the lives of many kids who don’t have stable two-parent homes, who don’t feel as though anyone cares whether or not they perform well in school, who don’t think they have a chance at succeeding in life because of their neighborhood or the color of their skin. For many of today’s school-age children, Obama truly is the Role-Model-in-Chief.

And I, for one, am glad that he takes that role seriously.