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The true state of our union

02/21/2013

Would you say that the state of our union is strong? Our President seems to think so. I have to disagree.

President Barack Obama delivered his fourth State of the Union address on Tuesday to 33.5 million American viewers—the lowest viewership for any of his State of the Union speeches yet.

By way of contrast, twice as many Americans—67 million of them, to be exact—tuned in to watch the first Presidential debate between Obama and Mitt Romney.

According to TV ratings company Nielsen, Obama’s address was the least-watched since Bill Clinton gave his final State of the Union in 2000 to 31.4 million American viewers.

Nielsen’s numbers don’t take into account how many people watched Obama’s speech online or streamed it to a mobile device, though.
In his address to the Houses of Congress and the American people, Obama claimed that “together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.”

But if our democratic republic is as strong as Obama believes, why did so few of its citizens care to tune in to its progress report?
Maybe it has something to do with the polarized political climate in America. The complete lack of compromise and fellow-feeling among politicians in our government has led to a trend of what Obama called “manufactured crises.”

He’d like all the blame for those crises to be placed at the feet of the GOP. And while Republicans in Congress represent the biggest obstacle to any political action taken by the Democratic Party, both parties can be accused of political brinksmanship.

That game is an exhausting and harmful one to play in such a delicate economic atmosphere. In the last three months of 2012, America’s G.D.P. shrank 0.1 percent—the worst contraction since 2009—due to sharp cuts in military spending that came as a result of the expected “fiscal cliff.”

Incidentally, instead of reaching an agreement on the package of federal spending cuts and changing tax rates, Congress just postponed the entire issue until March 1, setting up another possible fiscal cliff scenario.

Knee-jerk reactions to the problems facing our nation aren’t going to get us anywhere. Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s ex-Chief of Staff, is famous for having said that you “never want to waste a good crisis.”

What he meant was that after some horribly tragic or catastrophic event, politicians should try to harness the collective fear and anger of the people and use it to get political change.

Lately, America has been through one crisis after another. Some of those crises were created by the very people we elected to lead us.

And despite signs that bipartisan compromise on issues like gun control and immigration might be just over the horizon, I can’t help but feel like we don’t have anything to show for our suffering yet.

Here’s to hoping that our leaders will keep faith with us, learn to see things from each other’s perspective and deliver enlightened public policy on the issues that we just can’t afford to put off or play around with any longer.

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