State of the Union: Where Was This President in His First Term?

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza/WhiteHouse.gov

For years, I’ve had a pet peeve with President Obama. I knew he wasn’t as progressive as many Democrats thought he was in 2008. Don’t get me wrong — I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 ad 2012. But many people the first time around thought he was going to be the champion of so many progressive causes that had been swept under the rug during the George W. Bush era.

Maybe he would have been more willing to take on more social issues if he’d had a Congress that was a little less obstructionist, but I’m not convinced he would have taken on the issues that I hoped he would tackle — passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, increasing the minimum wage, doing something to bring people out of poverty and making sure all kids have the same educational start.

I know. I’m a dreamer.

But in the President’s latest State of the Union address, much of what he talked about was political music to my ears. Obama has received a lot of praise for signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law as one of his first official acts.  And that was a big deal, but I never appreciated how the administration touted the Ledbetter Act as creating a law that would ensure that women would get equal pay for equal work — it doesn’t, no matter how much the administration has tried to finesse it.  And they have. But Ledbetter only gives employees — both men and women — an extended amount of time to sue for back pay and discrimination once it’s discovered; it’s not a guarantee that men and women doing the same job will get the same pay.

As for poverty, I’m sad that it’s taken the President this long to stand up for the importance of the minimum wage — not that $9 an hour is such a wonderful salary, but it’s significantly better than $7.25 that it is now, and has been since 2009. Anyone who knows anything about the story in the book Nickled and Dimed, knows that.

So what’s gotten into President Obama? One obvious factor is that he doesn’t have to worry about re-election anymore, so that frees him up to just put it all out there on the table. I don’t hold any notion that everything he proposed in #SOTU2013, as they called it on Twitter, will become legislation that can make its way though Congress without the Republican leadership throwing more roadblocks into the path of progress.

But as a girl who’s proudly and unabashedly liberal, who feels that the federal government does have some role to play in making sure that people are paid a fair and livable wage, President Obama’s remarks restored a little bit of the faith I had lost in him during his first term.

Realistically, I know some decisions will have to be made about which proposals live and which ones will die on Capitol Hill. But at least the President showed us a little of that liberal he kept in the political closet for the last four years.

Image via WhiteHouse.gov/Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

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