For those blog readers outside the United States, the State Of The Union Address is a speech the American president customarily gives at the beginning of each year, usually in January but sometimes in February, to a joint session of congress and, via broadcast, to the USA population. It lays out what the president hopes to accomplish in the coming year, what the past year has meant in his or her estimation, what the state of the country (the Union) is. If I were the president’s speech writer, this is the speech I’d write for him.
Good evening Madam Speaker, Vice President Joseph Biden, Elected Members of Congress, privileged guests, and my not-so-privileged and long-suffering fellow citizens and residents of these United States of America:
Customarily, during a State of the Union Speech, the congressional attendees and privileged guests in these chambers interrupt this speech with many applause lines, cheers, and even a few ovations. I fear that tonight, my fellow Americans, those elected legislators and privileged guests will do precious little applauding and even less cheering.
At the beginning of my address tonight, I will give them credit, the credit they deserve. I will recognize that these legislators have worked very hard, represented quite effectively their constituents, the stakeholders present at the negotiating table that is Washington DC. They have supped at the table of American affluence. They spent many hours dealing with conflicting agendas of those who sought their ear, those who sought to influence them, those who brought them their views, their concerns.
However, they will not cheer the various points I make in this address. Their silence will be forthcoming because tonight I speak not in the service of those constituents for whom the legislators have labored so diligently, so conscientiously.
No! Instead, tonight’s speech is in service of people with a separate set of interests, the ordinary working people, the common people, those whom we understand by the term “American middle class.” That’s quite a different constituency, if you will, than those whom the mass media and the pundits have traditionally considered to be the stakeholders who matter.
And to those who watch my speech via the broadcast and who are not physically present tonight, I speak to a tragically unspoken and unacknowledged fact.
That fact is this:
Throughout most of our history, neither the Speaker, nor the Vice President, nor the elected members of congress, nor most of those who move in the same circles as do the privileged guests physically assembled here tonight, nor even president of the United States himself, have ever consistently represented your interests, the interests of ordinary working American. This is especially true when those interest…your interests… contravened the interests of big money.
We politicians don’t like to talk about that. Instead, we like to talk about our shared interests, as if there were a large overlap of fundamental interests between the plutocracy and the common person.
But the truth is that your interests, your human needs, conflict with the interests and needs of the “stakeholders,” which lie in maximizing profits and market share, no matter what the social consequence, the economic and environmental consequences may be to you, your children and their children, your loved ones.
Indeed, we politicians hardly mention the interests of ordinary wage-earning American until it is time to ask him and her for our vote, a small donation, or maybe for their children’s lives and limbs to serve as feed for the meat grinder of foreign war!
That has been so for a couple hundred years now, because it has always been the wealthy classes of America that have rewarded us politicians richly. And today, it is the corporate interests who have hired thousands of lobbyists, spent millions on PR firms, invested heavily in our election campaigns, opened the doors of press coverage to us, funded the think tanks that have done the basic research for our legislative efforts. They financed and made possible the studies that end up in written legislative proposals and policy proposals, and they made it possible for us elected politicians to enter into these august and historic halls of power.
It is they who have enabled us elected politicians to become the executive committee and policy makers for these United States, this Union, which today exercises command and control of the greatest economic and military power this world has ever seen.
This American plutocracy dominates the world’s economy more completely, more thoroughly than any previous ruling class of any world power or empire could ever have begun to imagine.
And as a consequence, American culture, American English, American legal norms, American cinema, American music, American arts, science, technology, American literature and philosophy have all had, for better or worse, a far greater reach and more profound influence on the world’s culture and consciousness than those of any other great power in the history of humanity.
Just think about it for a moment!
In the brief historical space of just 250 years, the United States of America’s influence has surpassed even that of the mighty Roman empire, the Persian or Greek empires, the great Chinese and Indian empires, the conquering Mogul empire, the great Muslim empires of the early middle ages, the Ottoman empire, even the mighty British empire.
The United States’ capitalist system exercises effective command and control of the world’s marketplaces and resources, although that picture is now in the process of change. That’s why we call ourselves the “leader of the free world.”
Today, with just 6% of the world’s population, the United States as a country consumes 25% of the world’s resources and spends more on military power than all other countries of the world together. The United States maintains hundreds of military bases in many countries, on every populated continent. In the past 250 years, our country has involved itself in 13 major wars and hundreds of military interventions all over the world.
And you, my fellow Americans, those of you in the so-called American middle class, pay the major cost of this, yet you share a tiny portion of the derived wealth and have no real say over how that power is exercised. You never have had a vote on whether this country goes to war or lives in peace. You don’t get to vote on whether there is full employment, whether the air you breathe is clean, whether the water you drink is polluted, whether the food you eat is safe.
It is the plutocracy, through the agency of their politicians, who make the decisions for you, and their first interests lie in marketplace advantages, profit margins, and not in the quality of your life. And it is their votes, taken in board rooms and closed old-boy networking gatherings that count, not your votes.
Your votes count only in choosing which administrator of corporate interests gets to hold power, and you only get to vote on that every couple of years. And that assumes no electoral fraud.
When I began my presidency one year ago, I and millions of you had hope.
We hoped that finally you, the biggest stakeholder, would have more of a voice, more influence than just a letter, an email, or an occasional election might bring. We hoped that a real democracy would start to emerge, a democracy of the working and middle classes, as opposed to a democracy that limits meaningful decision-making to members of the plutocracy and their bought-and-paid-for politicians and judges.
We had hoped that the stakeholders at the richly-appointed table in Washington DC would work out compromises that would help them live without so much rancor while enabling the middle and working classes to have a better life, to be able to be secure in your homes, in your jobs, in your future, without the wolves of poverty, unemployment, unaffordable illness, and bankruptcy stalking you, haunting your dreams and nightmares. That hope mobilized millions of you, inspired millions of you!
I really thought that I could bring a spirit of compromise, of human decency out of them. And so I sought out a common ground among all the stakeholders.
But alas, those bickering and feuding politicians and plutocrats could find only one common ground. And that one common ground was this:
Out of the entire collection of stakeholders, one particular stakeholder must be absolutely barred from the bargaining table–not only given no voice but not given any consideration whatsoever!
You know who that stakeholder is. That stakeholder is you, my fellow Americans, the American working class and middle class.
The other stakeholders insist that you must not be allowed to trump their special interests, and that you must not be allowed a seat at the bargaining table. That’s their great unifying program. No seat at the banquet table for this particular stakeholder known as the American middle class and working class. They squabble about who gets how much of the plunder of war and regressive taxation, bailouts. And they want to keep the squabble among themselves, without you having any say at all.
In a way, you can’t blame them. The stakeholder known as the American working class/middle class is the largest stakeholder of them all, surpassing the others by orders of magnitude in terms of population.
But not only is this stakeholder huge in terms of population. This stakeholder was also the most important player in the American economy, as this neglected and ignored stakeholder is actually you, the American working and middle class. It is you who are the source of all the goods and services produced in the American economy. It is, after all, wage labor that makes all this incredible wealth possible in the first place.
Yet despite almost universal lip service, especially at election time and special holidays, you and I know that what we call the American working class had no representatives at all. There is no American worker’s party. The Republican Party is certainly not a worker’s party, and neither is the Democratic party. Just look at who pulls the strings!
In truth, the plutocracy has a monopoly on political power through its parties, the Democratic and Republican parties.
How has this manifested itself over the last year since I had the honor of becoming your president?
The bailouts of the banks and the auto industry are a part of this story. They gambled with their assets, taking long shots, and when they lost their bets, they came to the wage earners and asked them to sacrifice. They asked the American public to bail them out, telling us they were too big to fail, that their failure would ruin the economy in the worst scenario or impoverish millions of American wage earners and retirees under the best of scenarios.
We made the mistake of succumbing to this blackmail, this extortion. We bailed them out, and they took the money and gave themselves huge bonuses. Then they refused to give any public accounting of what they did with the ransom the public paid them. They tell us it’s none of the public’s business. They tell the public to shut up and pay.
Here’s what we should have told them:
Okay gentlemen, you tell us you can’t operate your banks, your insurance companies, your hedge funds, your auto plants profitably in our capitalist system unless you get a gigantic bailout from us. You tell us you can’t treat your employees and customers honorably and in an above-board manner and still stay in business. You demand all kinds of waivers, handouts under threat of financial disaster for the common citizen. You tell us if we do not pay this ransom you demand, you will go down and take us with you, causing the country as a whole a horrible disaster.
Now gentlemen, would you be kind enough to explain to me why your banks, your insurance companies, your real estate investment companies, your auto plants should not be taken over, run as a publicly owned enterprise, managed by a publicly accountable board in the interest of the nation instead of the interest of your largest shareholders?
And then explain to me why the American people should compensate you one red cent. We don’t normally compensate bank robbers for their loss of revenues when we seize their ill-gotten gains and restore them to the people who legitimately created that wealth, do we?
The recent health reform debate amply illustrates the vulgar nature of the spectacle that is the “stakeholders’” mud-wrestling match.
But it turns out that the biggest stakeholder of all, the stakeholder who actually pays the money in the end, who is both the patient and the policy holder, had no seat at that banquet table. Instead, this stakeholder’s carcass was the trussed up and cooked as main course at the feast of the carnivores.
The California OneCare Campaign is creating a mass movement in California for real health care reform. Here’s what they say are the absolute requirements for meaningful health care:
- It must replace for-profit health insurance with one simple, publicly-funded plan.
- It must be everyone in and everyone covered to cut administrative costs up to 30%
- It must negotiate prices and regulate drugs and medical equipment.
- It must provide full care for all, choice of doctor, no preexisting conditions or deductibles
- It must control skyrocketing health care costs
- IT MUST COST FAMILIES FAR LESS.
This is what we need in place of the legislative monstrosity now pending in the House and Senate.
By now, it is evident that I have failed to represent you properly because it’s impossible to serve both the people and plutocracy. Recent events and polls show that the American people see the government and big business as being its own special interest group uninterested in the common good.
I no longer can disregard how the pundits and bankers cheer an end to the recession while the threat to your social and financial wellbeing continues apace. I no longer can ignore the growing misery and anxiety of the American working class and middle class, the specter of unemployment and inflation, the erosion your of standards of living, the promise of a dire future and old age lived in poverty, cold, hunger, and misery.
But I cannot address these problems by myself.
So tonight, my fellow Americans, I urgently ask you for your help as President of these United States, to do something daring, something dramatic, something patriotic!
I call on you, my fellow Americans, to do your duty as members of our community in the name of decency and humanity.
I call on you to engage in mass nonviolent action for your sake, your children’s sake, even the sake of all humankind!
Mass action is your only real power, and power only takes a backward step in the face of power. Your power lies not in your votes so much as in your united action. Against the forces of the plutocracy, I am unable to bring about any meaningful reform on your behalf without your help.
I cannot rely on the politicians, the Democrats, the Republicans, the marketplace, or anybody other than the great American middle class and the American wage earner. My first year in office has proven that to me. Now you must do your part.
You simply must turn out by the millions in support of your interests, because no one else is going to assist you.
You must no longer be fooled by the Democratic-Republican two-party sandbox. You must do more than write letters, although writing letters is a start.
You must follow the example of Martin Luther King and mount mass actions similar to the civil rights demonstrations and mass sit-ins. You must find a mass action equivalent to the great sit-down strikes of the 1930s. You must mobilize as did the suffragettes in their long struggle to get the right of women to vote in the early part of the 20th century.
This is not unheard of in American politics. The American people acting independently and even against the politicians knocked down the Jim Crow laws. That great American Leader Martin Luther King called out millions of Americans in independent political action, in the streets. We need that kind of mass, legal, peaceful movement again to challenge the status quo. And we need to understand that the Democratic and Republican party are part of that status quo.
Customarily, presidents end the State of the Union with the phrase “God Bless America.” To ask God’s blessing on America is a prayer that He favor us.
But tonight, I hesitate to pray for the Creator’s benediction before I ask myself this:
If Jesus stood where I stand and wielded the earthly power that the American president commands, would he feed the hungry and house the homeless, or would he spend money on war and paying off rich bankers?
Would Jesus tolerate the wars that we are involved in? Would he tolerate a situation where every 30 seconds, some American family goes bankrupt, and 60% of them for medical debt, thrown out of their homes and into the street for the crime of getting old and sick?
Wouldn’t Jesus tell us that this world today has the resources and power to ensure no child goes hungry, that no one should live under the threat of bombs and drones?
What would Jesus do if he walked among us today? Would he who drove the money changers from the temple in a rage take money from working Americans and turn it over to the robber barons who run the banks?
Would Jesus even tolerate the rule of the plutocracy?
Or would he tell us to quit praying, to get off our knees and act like the courageous men and women we are, to demand back from the robber barons the stolen fortune we have been praying for? Would he not look at the big banks and ask his heavenly father the question that Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright, asked himself decades ago: “What is the crime of robbing a bank compared to the founding of a bank?”
Wouldn’t he tell us it’s our duty is to mobilize by the millions for justice for us and our children’s generation?
We Americans pride ourselves on our self-reliance. You need to rely on your own mass power to demand justice. I cannot drive the moneylenders from the halls of power by myself. For that, I need the power of the American people.
Go to your churches, your temples, your synagogues, your mosques, your gurdwaras, your places of worship. Go to your fraternal organizations, your unions, and other associations.
Begin by organizing a mass march on 3 cities, Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, to demand single payer health insurance. Go and demand an end to war. Go and demand social justice. I am hamstrung and unable to do anything against the power of the plutocracy unless I can rely on the power only you can give me at this point, the power of mass, nonviolent, and independent political action.
So rather than asking God’s blessing on America, I ask that America earn that blessing by creating the blessing of justice and wellbeing, even for the least among us. I believe that would be the command of Jesus.
History will judge us badly if we do not rise to this challenge.
There are those who say this is not a practical program, that it is unrealistic. They will tell you to be pragmatic, to be flexible, to not have concerns beyond yourself. The corporations and plutocracy are too powerful, the robber barons too ruthless to be defeated.
To them, I must quote the great Irish essayist and poet George Bernard Shaw:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
So before beseeching God’s blessing, let America first strive to make peace, house the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, educate the ignorant, create beauty in place of ugliness, act to deserve God’s blessing. Only then do we have the right to pray for it. And if we pray, let us pray for the courage to seize justice.
Good night, my fellow Americans, and be of good courage! You will certainly need it in the coming days.
By Alan OldStudent, January 25, 2010
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