Obama's State of the Union

The battle for the future of America

Watch the enhanced version of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address or read the transcript at http://www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2013.
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno. His column, Greenlight, appears weekly in this space.

Last Tuesday night, I was at Head Hunters bar in Midtown Sacramento. Along with 100 Democratic activists, I watched President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. I was struck by how much things have changed over the last four years.

At Obama’s election four years ago, even though the county was in the worst recession since the Great Depression, there was such a sense of jubilation. We were ecstatic that America had elected an African-American president. We were optimistic that he would be able to govern above the political fray. Many of us hoped that, just as America was able to come together to elect our first minority president, we could come together to solve our problems. Four years later, I have less hope but much more determination.

My hope was diminished when the Supreme Court, in its infinite wisdom, allowed corporations to spend as much as they wanted to buy an election. My hope was diminished as I observed two distinct criminal codes, one for most American citizens, and another one for hedge-fund operators. And my hope was diminished when a major political party nominated someone for commander in chief who found nothing wrong with investing his wealth offshore to avoid paying his fair share of taxes.

So, this election felt less like a celebration and more like a continuation of gridlock. The event at Head Hunters was organized by the Sacramento Mighty Oaks. It was one of 1,200 organized neighborhood events held across the country. It was inspiring to watch the State of the Union address with a supportive crowd. People clapped when they heard Obama speak about gun control, demand an increase in the minimum wage and encourage us to work on global warming.

Obama articulated a great vision for America. He described a government that would play an active role in helping all Americans. But sitting with the Mighty Oaks at Head Hunters, I think we all knew that that his proposals would be “dead on arrival” at the Republican-majority House of Representatives.

Shortly after his speech, Obama spoke by phone to more than 100,000 supporters around the country. Speaking of his political goals, he said, “We can’t finish the job without you. … To get it done, it’s going to require a big push from you guys.”

In other words, there’s no hope that Congress will come together on their own. The battle for the future of America will require a nationwide social movement, putting pressure on the politicians.

But those of us who believe that America should take care of all its citizens are not alone. We have reinforcements coming—the expanded Hispanic electorate, and a newly energized youth block, among others. The battle for the future of America will be fought in the trenches. That is the real state of the union.