by C. J. Oakes
Fifty-three minutes into President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address, he appealed to Congress and the American people to rise above the partisanship which is stagnating Washington, DC. He asked,
“How Can We Better Reflect America’s Hopes?”
In his appeal, the President listed a number of issues on which we disagree, but also pointed out the ways in which we can find common ground. For instance, he said,
“We may have different takes on the events in Ferguson and New York, but surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. And surely
we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift. And surely we can agree that it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together. And use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement to reform America’s Criminal Justice System so that it protects and serves all of us.”
President Obama further added,
“That’s a better politics. That’s how we start rebuilding trust. That’s how we move this country forward. That’s what the American people want. And that’s what they deserve. I have no more campaigns to run. My only agenda, (pause during laughter), I know, because I won both of them. My only agenda for the next two years…is to do what I believe is best for America. If you share the broad vision I outlined tonight, I ask you to join me in the work at hand. If you disagree with parts of it, I hope you’ll at least work with me where you do agree.”
The President Called for Social Justice, Congress Was Divided
Leading to this appeal for Washington, DC to rise above partisan politics and handle matters which much of the nation needs, President Obama played to a strongly divided Congress. Throughout much of the State of the Union Address, the room was clearly split along party lines. The images which accompany this article attest to this fact. On only three occasions did Congress unite: on defense and support of the military; on the task of defeating terrorism through unilateral strikes; and on the matter of industrial expansion.
It would seem that President Obama was using the State of the Union address as a sounding board to determine the precise temperature of Congress on social justice issues which affect the majority of Americans. It may also have been a means of determining exactly where common ground lay between Democrats and Republicans so that the two parties can perhaps stop the partisan bickering which has stagnated DC.
Whatever the case, it is clear that Democrats are more concerned with social justice issues than Republicans. But this is no shocker. Republicans are tougher, against all evidence to the contrary, in matters of criminal justice. Democrats tend to look to science for clues to handling such important issues; Republicans tend to look to authorities, most often religious authorities, who themselves often conflict. This is an important distinction to understand and moving forward, this difference in attitudes and ways of deciding values will be important (Read more about values and how we develop beliefs here). For now, we must appreciate that for social justice to develop as a science and a force for good in society, Congress will need to find an issue on which both can agree and which will help achieve social justice. Is there such an issue?
The Issue with the Power to Unite for Social Justice
Both parties in Congress are clearly united on support for the military and the war on terrorism, but there was only one other issue in which the two appeared to agree and this issue could be the saving grace for all the others. President Obama stated that more had to be done to keep the nation competitive in the world, economically-speaking. Both sides of the aisle rose and applauded. However, most appreciate that the two parties are quite divided on this important issue, with Republican’s leaning in favor of business-owners and Democrats leaning towards the working class. Still, this is a key issue to achieving social justice, so common ground should and can be found here.
The Presidential campaign of 2012 which pitted businessman Mitt Romney against President Barak Obama reveals clues to how uniting on this front could be accomplished. On the economic front, Mr. Romney discussed doing more to encourage people to start their own businesses while the President discussed raising the educational levels of American workers. Although this issue appears different, there is a common thread.
Numerous studies have shown that when a person’s education level rises, their income increases. Other studies have shown that the most successful entrepreneurs are educated. Thus, as a nation, we can and should address both. We can raise the education levels of more people while at the same time encourage more individuals to start their own businesses. This will satisfy both political parties while at the same time bolster the economic and industrial output of the nation, raising the standard of living for millions in the process.
Because one of the keys to achieving social justice has to do with the economic situation of people, this should be the focus for the next several years. If Republicans and Democrats put into motion a series of acts all designed to invest in our human infrastructure, both through education and expansion of small and large businesses, we will begin to see more social justice in the nation. More people will be able to feed their families, more will gain health insurance outside government circles, more will enjoy better housing, and more will enjoy the American Dream. Many of the most heated issues will melt away. Thus, we will achieve the goals set forth in President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address and in so doing, “better reflect America.” But Congress will have to cooperate.