So the President Gave a Speech Last Night...

image of the President speaking, while, behind him, Vice President Biden is making a silly face and Speaker Boehner looks super annoyed

President Obama gave his 2014 State of the Union address last night. C-SPAN has video of the address here. (As well as video of Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers' rebuttal here.) The New York Times has a complete transcript of the President's address here.

A couple of brief observations:

1. The speech was peppered with lots of ideas about how corporations can make workers' lives better. President Obama urged companies to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 on their own. There was also a lot of rhetoric about hard work and opportunity. Very little of it felt, to me, like it reflected the reality for millions of US workers, whose companies are actively and openly trying to deny them benefits, overtime, safety on the job—anything to save money and maximize profits. People are working hard. Good jobs with a livable wage are vanishing, and people are working harder and harder to make ends meet. Their employers are often the enemy of their security. All of it just felt really out of touch.

2. The President gave short shrift (two sentences) to the prevention of gun violence. Welp.

3. The President did not address federal employment protections for LGBTQI workers at all. Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, said in a statement after the address: "We are...pleased that the President is using his pen like he said he would to move things forward: in this instance by signing an executive order to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers. However, he must go further and sign an executive order that bans discrimination against the same contract workers who are LGBT. The irony is that some LGBT federal contract workers will get a pay raise but they could still be fired for who they are and who they love. The longer the President waits the more damage LGBT people will face."

4. Ahead of the speech, the White House was telling media that women's issues would be a central piece of the speech. (At CNN, for example: "Obama to put women's issues 'front and center' in address.") And the President did address the pay gap, though he failed to acknowledge the pay gap is even bigger for women of color. He offered a great line for a perfect viral soundbite—"It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode."—and got a lot of applause for his call to give women equal pay for equal work, but once again he failed to mention reproductive rights access, and how crucial it is for women to be able to control their reproduction in order to meet educational and employment goals and achieve financial security.

5. [Content Note: War; injury; disablism] The longest sustained applause of the evening came when President Obama introduced Army Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, a soldier who was seriously injured in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb on his tenth deployment. Ten deployments. Ten fucking deployments. President Obama told Remsburg's story:
[O]n his 10th 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; he could barely move. Over the years, he's endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, hours of grueling rehab every day.

Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. 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."

Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.
Thunderous applause. Tears. And then the President used Remsburg as a symbol of inspiration:
My fellow Americans — my fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy... The America we want for our kids — a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us — none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, the way Cory summoned what is best in him, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow, I know it's within our reach.
Setting aside the grossness of the "Person with a Disability as Inspiration" trope, which has a long history in State of the Union addresses, and the cynical appropriation of the personal story of a member of the military, which also has a long history in State of the Union addresses, I'm not sure I see Remsburg symbolizing the same things the President does.

When invited to look at him as a symbol, I didn't see a man who reminds me that "the American Dream" isn't easy. What I saw is a man who, like so many other men and women, offered their service, and potentially their lives, to protect their country, but was instead sent to a war of choice. Ten times. What I see is a man who has a struggle he didn't have before, because of corporate interests masquerading as national security, because of lies, because powerful people who tell pretty patriotic stories about "the American Dream" convince brave (and/or desperate) young men and women to go fight wars that make those powerful people very, very rich.

That doesn't take anything away from Remsburg's courage and loyalty and service. Ten fucking deployments. That guy is hard as nails.

He went to his job, and he worked hard, and he gave everything short of his life to his work. And his employer, the US government, worked him right through until they couldn't work him anymore. And that story seems less symbolic of how nothing comes easy, as much as it does indicative of how brutally hard it is for US workers, while it's so very easy for the people who make decisions about their lives.

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